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I know some people find it inappropriate or even insulting, but I see weird similarities between these two pandemics and wonder what we can learn from 40 years of fighting hiv/aids.

by Jennifer Hopelezz - 15 April 2020

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Flashbacks, from Aids to Corona

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

foto (c) Remon van den Kommer
There are spooky parallels to the early years of hiv. One of the most obvious is the finger-pointing and stigmatizing. Back then it was the ‘gay plague’ caused by ‘irresponsible promiscuous gays’ (that would be me), now the blame for the ‘Chinese virus’ is aimed at the Chinese government and Asians in general.

Back then people could (falsely) reassure themselves that it was only affecting ‘disposable populations’ like queers, intravenous drug users, sex workers and people of color. Now the ‘disposables’ are the elderly, the obese and the disabled (and people of color).

Then, as now, I remember the panic in emergency rooms, and whole wings of hospitals being converted just for people with the virus. Gay saunas and sex venues in many countries, like now, were shut down. (Bathhouses in New York and San Francisco, then ground zero for hiv, actually never did re-open.)

The fears about transmission are back today. One tragic case I remember was the 1987 Oprah Winfrey interview of Mike Sisco, an hiv positive man from small town America who caused an uproar after taking a dip in the local pool. That panic seems bizarre now but was very real back then. The swimming pool was forced to close.

The rush today to introduce unproven treatments like the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine was just like the push to introduce the very first anti-hiv treatment AZT, which was later shown to prolong life for about a year but was originally given in such high doses that the toxicity caused a lot of long-term damage.

Some things though are almost funnily inverted. Precautions for sex in corona times include no kissing, washing hands and showering before and after sex. Having unprotected anal sex has no risk for corona. In other words, showers and hand sanitizers, not condoms and PrEP.

But some good came from this bad. Back in 1982 the first buddy projects were started, like what we see now with groups forming to help others with shopping and errands, or just to lend an ear.

Activist groups like ACT UP sprung up and forced government to listen to the community, influenced policy and lead eventually to a stronger LGBTQ community.

Jack-off parties and safe sex parties appeared for the first time, and venues like Blow Buddies in San Francisco opened where only sucking was allowed but fucking strictly prohibited. Today people are getting inventive again with jack-off zoom parties, Instagram strip shows and homemade gloryholes.

Governments learnt to work with the communities most affected, making sure that the most vulnerable people had access to medical help. We all learnt we had to fight the stigma, prejudice and discrimination as much as the virus itself.

One other thing we also learnt- we will survive! To paraphrase Lady Bunny: “We got through aids, the swine flu, the bird flu and all those DJ live streamings - we got this people!”

Stay safe and take care of each other!




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