As a 17 year old in 1973, I came out as a gay man and joined the battle for “gay rights,” still in its early years. Over the next eight years I fought (successfully) for policies supporting non-discrimination at the two schools I attended, MIT and Harvard Law School, as well as my city of residence, Cambridge. When I first read about AIDS in 1981, I was entering my last year of law school. Words like “Waterloo” and “Armageddon” for the gay community echoed in my mind as the number of AIDS cases grew geometrically, though still remotely, with the epidemic centered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City.
By 1983, I was working at Fenway Community Health in an administrative position and seeing many of the first AIDS cases as they arrived on our doorstep. Sadly, many of the individuals visited the clinic a few times and then disappeared, quickly stricken down by the mysterious illness. It’s impossible to describe the fear and panic felt throughout the gay community back then. Imagine your friends getting sick and dying all around you with barely a passing mention in your local newspaper or TV station. Imagine the government, including public health, providing no communication about the epidemic, except, perhaps, to disparage the victims. Imagine not knowing how this disease is transmitted, yet constantly wondering if you are next.
By 1985, I had my first job as an AIDS researcher, studying health care utilization by patients with AIDS. This evolved into my career in public health, eventually landing at JSI where I continue to study HIV/AIDS as well as other widespread public health problems.