The Story Behind The Photo That Changed The World’s Perception Of AIDS

Tremors Of The Epidemic

Gay Rights Protest

Wikimedia CommonsThe 1970s were a time of increasing social and political consciousness for the gay community.

Unfortunately for David Kirby, and for millions of others, the Los Angeles gay scene was an epicenter of the burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic. The first scientific description of what we now call AIDS was published as a series of case studies of Los Angeles residents who were treated at the UCLA Medical Center.

Kirby got to town just as the infection was taking off, but before anybody knew what was going on.

It was typical of gay men in “the scene” to have multiple partners in quick succession, and protection was almost never used. Combined with its long incubation period and slow, enigmatic onset, the disease was well-positioned to spread from person to person with impunity.

Nobody knows when Kirby was infected, but by the early 1980s, clusters of unusual cancers and respiratory illnesses were cropping up among gay men in every major city in America.

Kirby was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987 at the age of 29. Without effective treatments, or even a clear idea of how the virus was killing its victims, the diagnosis was a death sentence. It was known by then that the infected had from a few months to a couple of years after the onset of symptoms to live.

Kirby decided to spend the time he had left in AIDS activism. He also reached out to his family and asked to come home.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
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