Thirty years ago, I started writing about a new disease that was striking down hundreds of gay men and others in the prime of their lives. It was a frightening time, and I had no way of knowing then that the story of AIDS would become the guiding narrative of my career as a journalist, filmmaker and historian.
As I covered the AIDS epidemic, I quickly realized that the story of AIDS was not just a story of tragedy. At the heart of the struggle was a heroic group of gay men and women and their allies who refused to play to type.
They mobilized one of the most powerful and meaningful social revolutions in human history – a revolution that saw patients stand up and demand a direct role in decision-making at every level. People living with HIV refused to let government officials, medical industry representatives and researchers conduct business as usual behind closed doors at the FDA and the National Institutes of Health. They demanded a seat at the table, and they got one.
Photo courtesy of the Independent Film Channel, LLC.
At that time, few of those revolutionaries could have predicted the indelible impact of the history that they were writing. What they knew was simple: It was irresponsible and immoral for powerful people to make seemingly arbitrary decisions that threatened the lives of people living with HIV.
Clear-voiced activists like Peter Staley – who left a promising career on Wall Street to become a full-time AIDS activist – made sure that the whole world was watching. Thanks to the tenacity of Peter and thousands like him, the world discovered effective treatments for HIV after just a few years of collaboration.
Today, 8 million people with HIV/AIDS worldwide are alive thanks to those drugs.
By telling this story of AIDS, we can remind ourselves and succeeding generations that nothing is impossible when committed people come together to demand action.
Join Peter Staley and me tonight at 8:00 PM Eastern time to share stories about the fight for HIV treatment. And join me today by sharing your own personal story of inspiration.
How has HIV/AIDS touched your life? Share your story in the comments below and we'll share some of our favorites on Impatient Optimists in the days to come.