For the past week and a bit so I have been reading And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts. I borrowed it from the public library on something of a whim. It had been on my to-read list for awhile and when I saw it was available I snatched it up. I am only halfway through the book and may write a full review when I’m finished, but when I realized it was World AIDS Day it seemed appropriate to dedicate a blog post to the issue.
The central theme coursing through Shilt’s powerful book is the apathy with which the AIDS epidemic was greeted by much of the US government, public health institutions, and the gay community itself. The contrast between today’s response to AIDS and the early days of the crisis is striking. Although the epidemic is far from over, AIDS research has moved from the fringes into the mainstream in just a few decades. The hashtag #WorldAIDSDay was trending on my Twitter feed yesterday, people on social media wore red to commemorate the day, politicians made statements on the need to work toward a cure, and there are tons of organizations, from high-profile, celebrity-studded, endeavours to small, grassroots initiatives, dedicated to the cause. I’m sure the process has felt far too long and arduous to those closely connected with AIDS, but it must still be mind-boggling for them to see the progress that has been made.
I wonder what Randy Shilts would have made of it. While reviewing the author’s Wikipedia entry, I learned the devastating fact that he died of AIDS in 1994. In fact, he apparently declined to know the results of an HIV test until after he had finished the book as he was worried it would impair his objectivity. World AIDS Day was established in 1988, while Shilts was still alive but it would grow to be a much bigger event in the years after his death. I wonder if he would be pleased to see how much public messaging has changed. I wonder if he would be proud at the resources dedicated to fighting the disease. I wonder if he could celebrate the effectiveness of treatment. I wonder if he would be angry that such an enormous effort came too late for so many people. I wonder if he would be frustrated that so many continue to suffer.
I will continue to wonder as I read his book. And I hope you read it too.