This early television news broadcast about a strange form of cancer mostly infecting homosexual men offers a fascinating insight into how the public came to understand AIDS, before it was even called as such. From an NBC Nightly News Broadcast in 1982.
That comes via a fascinating retrospective on AIDS paranoia by Salon’s Emma Mustich, who recounts this awful story:
A lengthy Time feature, “The New Untouchables,” published in September 1985, details exactly how extensive AIDS-related discrimination eventually became. “Anxiety over AIDS in some parts of the U.S. is verging on hysteria,” its authors wrote; they began with the following, highly disturbing example:
There are 946,000 children attending New York City schools, and only one of them — an unidentified second-grader enrolled at an undisclosed school — is known to suffer from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, the dread disease known as AIDS. But the parents of children at P.S. 63 in Queens, one of the city’s 622 elementary schools, were not taking any chances last week. As the school opened its doors for the fall term, 944 of its 1,100 students stayed home.
According to the magazine, state Assemblymen Frederick Schmidt, standing among a crowd of frightened, angry P.S. 63 parents, burst out: “There is no medical authority who can say with authority that AIDS cannot be transmitted in school. What about somebody sneezing in the classroom? What about the water fountain? What about kids who get in a fight with a bloody nose? They don’t know!”
That stigma has subsided substantially (though not completely) here in the United States. But in some places around the world stigma around HIV/AIDS still runs deep. I came across this story of three young sisters who were driven to suicide because of the ostracism they experienced in their rural Indian community.
Sixteen-year-old Krishna Gohil along with her sisters Daksha(10) and Rekha(12) consumed pesticide at their home. The girls were frustrated and envisioned a bleak future. While Daksha and Krishna had already tested HIV-positive, Rekha was worried she too would eventually be HIV positive. The girls had lost their mother Vilas and brother Ajay in 2006 to AIDS.
The family had changed a couple of houses too after friends and relatives had started maintaining cold distance with them following the HIV-positive status revelation. The girls according to sources were worried about their future and decided to end their lives. Daksha and Rekha died on the spot, while Krishna died during treatment at Bhavnagar’s Sir T hospital on Saturday morning, police said.
Their father Vinubha Gohil, 42, is bed-ridden and in a critical phase while battling for life with HIV.
Sources in the village said that people of the village had socially boycotted the family after they came to know that they were affected by AIDS. “People would not come close to them, at marriages they were told to sit separately and even at the temple they were shunned,” the sources said.
It is a small step from behaving the way Federick Schmidt did in 1985 and the way that these villagers ostracized this family. Stigma can be deadly.