AIDS: 1981-2011

The timeline of a disease

1981: The CDC first reports of an unusual outbreak of disease in several gay men. These would later be considered the first documented cases of AIDS.

1982: The CDC suggests that the new infections may be sexually transmitted, and begin naming the disease GRID or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Eventually the disease is seen in hemophiliacs and Haitians, inspiring researchers to formally change its name to AIDS.

1983: AIDS cases are now being reported worldwide. By the year’s end, more than 3,000 people are reported to be infected – and of these more than 1,200 die. The Red Cross starts banning gay men from donating blood. Activist and musician Michael Callen is among the first gay men to publicly testify about the disease to Congress, and San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein declares the first week in May as AIDS Awareness Week.

1984: Researchers first discover the virus that causes AIDS – it will later become known as HIV. San Francisco shuts down its bathhouses and 13-year-old Ryan White is diagnosed and eventually driven from his Indiana home after being harassed by community members.

1985: The first HIV test is developed. Larry Kramer debuts The Normal Heart, Elizabeth Taylor creates the American Foundation for AIDS research (AMFAR) and Rock Hudson dies of AIDS complications at age 59.

1986: The Reagan administration rejects HIV-positive immigrants from entering the U.S. while Steve Buscemi stars in one of the first films to realistically address the disease: Parting Glances. The federal government finally starts investing $100 million over five years for AIDS drug research.

1987: ACT UP is formed and the federal government approves a new AIDS drug known at AZT. Congress passes the Helms Amendment that bans federal funding of AIDS programs for homosexuals. And Cleve Jones unveils The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt to memorialize those we’ve lost.

1988: The Surgeon General creates an educational initiative “Understanding AIDS” and George H.W. Bush asks for protection from discrimination for those living with HIV and AIDS. Congress will spend $800 million on AIDS research.

1989: Protestors storm New York’s City Hall in protest of health care and President Bush is heckled during a televised speech. The Red Hot Organization releases Red Hot + Blue with mainstream artists covering Cole Porter classics to raise money to fight the disease.

1990: Artist Keith Haring dies at age 31 and the film Longtime Companion chronicles the early years of AIDS among a group of gay friends. Congress passes the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act to fund AIDS service organizations around the country.

1991: Freddie Mercury dies at age 45. Jeremy Irons is the first celebrity to wear a red ribbon during the Tony Awards. A second HIV drug is approved (Videx) as activists protest the high price of this and AZT.

1992: The Los Angeles School District distributes condoms to high school students and Mary Fisher, an HIV-positive woman, speaks at the Republican National Convention.

1993: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America wins a Tony and Pulitzer Prize, Randy Shilts’ book And the Band Played On is adapted into an HBO movie and Tom Hanks stars in Philadelphia for which he wins an Oscar.

1994: The Real World: San Francisco tells the story of a young AIDS activist Pedro Zamora who dies this same year. Researchers investigate the impact of AIDS drugs on pregnant mothers.

1995: The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS is created by President Bill Clinton and the FDA approves what becomes known as the “cocktail” – a combination of AIDS drugs.

1996: The International AIDS Conference releases new data that shows the disease can be managed with a combination of medications. A heterosexual character on the hit show ER learns that she’s HIV positive.

1997: The health department and CDC reports the first drop in AIDS-related deaths. The first post-exposure medications are being offered to people who have been exposed to the virus but may not be testing positive.

1998: HIV is detected in a blood sample from 1959. The FDA approved the first human trials for an AIDS vaccine as HIV infection rates rise 10 percent among youth worldwide.

1999: The highest infection rates are reported among African-American and mixed-race men in New York City and the World Health Organization says AIDS is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide.

2000: HIV is detected in more black and Latino men than gay men for the first time, says the CDC, but research suggests AIDS may have originated as early as 1930.

2001: A report reveals that 30 percent of young black men in major cities are HIV-positive.

2002: Queer As Folk in the U.S. introduces an HIV-positive character as a love interest to an HIV-negative character. AIDS drugs become more available to people in poor nations and the FDA approves an HIV test that delivers results in just 20 minutes.

2003: President George W. Bush introduces the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a plan to fight AIDS worldwide – and particularly in poor countries.

2004: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donates $50 million to fight AIDS and other diseases worldwide. And Designers Against AIDS launches to bring attention to the disease.

2005: Generic versions of AZT are made available.

2006: The FDA approves the first once-daily AIDS drug.

2007: The World Health Organization says male circumcision helps prevent the spread of the disease as drugs are distributed to low-income people living in Third World countries.

2008: AIDS deaths worldwide drop by more than two million. A German man who was HIV-positive no longer shows signs of having the disease.

Film still from “Fire in My Belly” by David Wojnarowicz

2009: Barack Obama becomes president and ends the ban on HIV-positive immigrants to the U.S. The Catholic Church opposes condom use, saying it contributes to the spread of the disease.

2010: The federal budget crisis threatens AIDS programs. A contestant on popular reality show Project Runway reveals he’s HIV-positive and artist David Wojnarowicz’s (he died of AIDS complications in 1992) silent film about AIDS is removed from an art exhibition Hide/Seek about gay life at the Smithsonian after the Catholic League complains.

2011: It’s estimated that 7,000 people are infected by HIV each day worldwide – 1,000 of whom are children, says the World Health Organization. Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is revived for the first time on Broadway and Elizabeth Taylor dies at age 79.