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Dueling Videos: Oprah in 1987 and AIDS activism in 2010

In 1987, I was a 26 year old living in Los Angeles and trying to face the horror of having tested positive with HIV. Television blasted daily reports of the death toll, the suicides of people with HIV, and even the deterioration and death of Rock Hudson. But nothing frightened me more than an episode of Oprah Winfrey, when she visited a West Virginia town living in hysteria over an HIV positive man using the public pool.

oprahSiscoWatching the fear and anger on the faces of these people is scarier than their Dynasty-era hairstyles (Oprah’s amazing ‘do could house her next academy for girls).

I’m getting the shivers again. In a new segment, Oprah revisits the town and the people there who cried out for the banishment of their HIV positive resident.

There are actually two videos I want you to see, and they are fascinating bookends around that ignorant time and our lives today. First is the Oprah piece showing her return to the community (her site also has a follow-up with the town’s angriest man, Jerry Waters, who is older but not much wiser).

Then watch a public service video, produced as part of the recent United States Conference on AIDS, that joyfully shows how far those of us with HIV have come, and what a community that supports its members really looks like.

Here’s the Oprah segment:

And here is the PSA from the United States Conference on AIDS, produced by the National Minority AIDS Council:

Thanks for watching, and please be well.




By | 2010-09-16T14:28:05+00:00 September 16th, 2010|Living with HIV/AIDS, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy|6 Comments


  1. frank September 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

    The Oprah piece is a must-see for all the fat-and-happy HRC black-tie crowd that live in gated communities and think we’ve “assimilated”. Phooey. This is a clear reminder that gay men are the last taboo and a large part of this country would have us in concentration camps. The fact that it’s 1987 is irrelevant. We must keep our passion and our vigilance.

  2. Lain Benjamin September 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Fabulous piece Mark. Wow, the Oprah piece caused me to remember what fear I lived with in 1987. As a closeted gay man during that time I lived with many fears, the fear of being outed, and an immense fear of getting AIDS. Thankfully today, living with HIV and happily out of the closet, my goal is to act only out of Love and minimize fear in my life. Your piece is very relevant today. Thank you.

  3. rod September 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    you know, I saw that show yesterday Mark, and I found myself feeling a little repulsed by the theatricality of it all. Here was this man who was humiliated by the ignorance of his hometown as they cleared a public pool and called the authorities. And next to him were the people that loved him a were willing to shield him as much as they could from the bullshit being thrown his way. But watching the 87 clip, I felt that the barking loudmouths were not really talking to this man with a disease. they were performing for the cameras and he was in the way. Fast forward to the present tape, with everyone presenting as having evolved in their humanitarianism. The remarks were quieter, the statements were PC, but the intention again was not the man with the disease, but for the sake of the camera.

    It opened my heart to watch, but not in the way I expected…

    Big hug to you, btw… I may run the “does this … make me look fat” in the next issue..


  4. Jonathan in SF September 22, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Geez, too bad the USCA folks didn’t end by jumping into a public swimming pool. Nevertheless, it’s a very well-done PSA which targets the right audiences. Here’s hoping it gets picked up by many, many heartland t.v. stations to educate those who think they aren’t affected by the illness from their neighbors who often live quietly with HIV & AIDS.

  5. Sue September 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    It so reminded my of the pain my son suffered from the hate. To have a life threatening illness is horrible, but to be hated and feared because of it is inhumane.

  6. Tommy September 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    I lived in Florida in 2005 when I outed my HIV status to a neighbor who sold his condo, moved; then told all of my neighbors. They closed the pool instantly w/ chemicals and I became the diseased pariah of the neighborhood. NOT FUN.

    What do I have to lose by being out w/ my HIV status? It can only help other people, yes? I sure hope so. Because all of the slaps I have healed from… I still need to feel free to be me. I have since packed and moved to a more tolerant area w/ less ignorance. However, I realize the same thing could happen in the highly educated area I live in.

    I have countless real life personal experience in this area. Stigma Situations repeat themselves at the dentist, just 3 yrs ago. There are old friends; relatives who dare not share food or drink w/ me. My father is still terrified when he is in my home. I have lived w/ HIV/ AIDS for over 20 yrs. I have lived long enough to know most people are very surprised I am alive! So am I ! I am so happy to get another chance everyday I wake up to ride w/ the tide & fight the good fight.

    I keep coming out of the HIV closet. I was “let go” due to a “slow down in business” when my partner told the guy he tricked with that I was HIV positive but he was not. (he was) Mr. Trick happen to know people I worked w/ and told my employer. Oh well, got to focus on what’s next. I was fired for NOT telling an employer I have HIV (but they knew) and was humiliated until they fired me. At my next job, I HAD to tell my employer that I was too ill to fulfill all of my job requirements. Insert long story here.

    I have been on the news, filmed in my home, in educational literature for DR’s offices, in flyers, full page ads and bus posters. But I’d be lying if I said we have come a long way, baby. In 2010, it is unwise I sign w/ my real name in case I want a real job.

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