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Thirty Years

Jim Burroway

June 5th, 2011

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control’s publication of a mysterious set of illnesses which took the lives of five gay men in Los Angeles. AIDS had been swirling around unnoticed since the 1930s, and doctors in Europe and Africa began to notice that people were falling victim to a host of diseases which are normally curable in the Congo River basin in the late 1970s. But it took the CDC report of a cluster of cases in southern California to signal that the mysterious deaths were somehow related. The rest, as they say, is history, with a whole lot of stigma thrown in.

Karen Ocamb happened to be in the middle of Southern California’s epidemic in the 1980s. She was living in a “glass closet,” as she described it. She was out to select friends. She found herself becoming an AIDS care provider simply because her friends needed her help. She told me via email, “I didn’t come out to family until I had to tell Chris Scott’s mother — the wife of an Air Force General and my godmother who was living at a military retirement community associated with March Air Force Base — that her son was gay, had AIDS, was dying in Intensive Care and she should dash to his side. Chris was closeted, too. I came out to my Aunt Bobbie and then my mother because I didn’t think it was fair that AIDS outed Chris but I could stay in the closet. My Aunt Bobbie said she already knew and my mother basically disowned me.”

Karen has put together what amounts to being a lovely online shrine to the many people she knew over the years along with her memories as an AIDS care advocate and LGBT journalist. You can see her updates by following this tag. She has it all, beginning with an interview with Dr. Robert Gottlieb, who wrote the first CDC report after having noticed the remarkable similarities between four cases of an “apparently new” disease. She continues with some of her own personal memories, activists and allies, early marches, rallying cries, demonstrations, indifferencebigotry and hope. Karen is currently participating in the AIDS LifeCycle, a seven day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Comments

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Amicus
June 5th, 2011 | LINK

Karen has some wonderful momentos on her blogalogalog. ! :-)

I can’t lie though. I don’t know if it is just me, but all this “AIDS at 30″ stuff is killing the joy-buzz of Pride month.

Mark F.
June 5th, 2011 | LINK

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens

Happy at the progress we’ve made fighting this disease but sad over all the friends and lovers lost. That sadness never goes away. I sense ghosts all over San Francisco. Men who should be here but are long dead.

Paul J. Stein
June 5th, 2011 | LINK

Thirty Years seems a bit short on the time frame of HIV. In 1977 a few Gay men that I knew of were coming down with what we now know as KS and PCP. Just a thought on the subject.

anteros
June 5th, 2011 | LINK

wow.
i wonder what the world was like before hiv/aids.
i wonder what it will be like after hiv/aids is gone.

Timothy Kincaid
June 6th, 2011 | LINK

I want to throw some praise Karen’s way.

The gay press (when such a thing thrived) produced a number of “reporters”. Karen was one who always looked for the truth hidden behind the press release. She is among a small handful of gay reporters who I can trust to be bringing me facts that I don’t have to double check and news that is more information than opinion.

Timothy Kincaid
June 6th, 2011 | LINK

Too many memories today… mostly memories of loss, of fear, of uncertainty, of shame. Today we live in a very different world and parts of me don’t want to look back, to relive the loss, to re-experience those feelings.

But by remembering where we were as compared to where we are helps me envision where we can be.

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