Early AIDS Awareness in Bloomington
Background and Fundamentals
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, abbreviated AIDS, is the set of symptoms associated with long-term infection by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. First described by the United States Center for Disease Control in 1981, AIDS is characterized by opportunistic infections stemming from vectors not usually significantly dangerous to human beings and increased susceptibility to certain forms of cancerous development and more traditionally dangerous diseases and viruses.
In its earliest media coverage, AIDS was more frequently referred to as GRID—“gay related immune deficiency”. In academic circles it became known as the 4-H disease, for its disproportionate presence in homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users, and Haitians, before “AIDS” was introduced into the lexicon in 1982.
Developing AIDS Awareness in Bloomington
The First Inklings
Bloomington is far removed from Los Angeles, where the CDC first discovered sufferers of the syndrome, and the distance shows in terms of Bloomington’s reaction to the developing AIDS crisis. Coverage of the AIDS epidemic in Bloomington proper did not begin in earnest until 1983, though the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction showed an early interest in the epidemiology of the condition by sending delegates to early conferences held on the condition across the United States.
An Increasing Concern
In 1983, AIDS awareness began to truly reach Bloomington—not through queer activists, but through the American Red Cross. On March 2nd, 1983, the ARC held a blood drive on the Bloomington Indiana University campus, and as a matter of course, quizzed potential donors about drug use, blood conditions, travel history—and sexual habits, including sexual preference. The local American Blood Resources Association affiliate, Sera-Tec, also announced an intention to “work with the Bloomington Gay Alliance and other high-risk groups to educate donors on AIDS symptoms.” However, as of the March 2nd blood drive, no donors were actually turned away for membership in a “high risk group”.
The pattern of queer apathy towards the AIDS epidemic continued for several years; in a December 1983 article in the Indiana Daily Student, the director of the Bloomington Gay and Lesbian Alliance stated that he felt gays and lesbians in the area had been “lulled into a sense of safety” and that “they’re thinking this is a problem they have in other places, so why worry about it?” In January of 1984, the local blood resource center, Sera-Tec, noted that it was confident that blood donation and transfusion would not contribute to the spread of AIDS. Even within the same statement, however, Sera-Tec also noted that it had begun to ask gay men not to give blood.
As of January 1986, only one Monroe County resident was confirmed to be a victim of AIDS. However, as the epidemic began to ramp up toward pandemic proportions, the Indiana University President, John Ryan, ordered the formation of an Indiana University AIDS Task Force. In February of 1987, one of the member of that task force and chairman of the Indiana State Health AIDS Advisory Committee addressed a group of pre-medical students and made a frightening prediction: that more than 10% of Americans would test positive for HIV antibodies by 1991. While predictions like these have proven vastly inflated, this panic marks a major shift in the Bloomington community’s handling of the increasingly-personal AIDS epidemic: by February of 1987, four people had joined the man who had previously been Monroe County’s sole sufferer.
Blever, Richard. “AIDS awareness reaches campus through blood drive.” Indiana Daily Student, March 2, 1983, Bloomington Section.
Boyle, Regina. “Locally, fear of AIDS not changing habits.” Indiana Daily Student, December 13, 1983, Bloomington Section.
Taylor, Wendy. “Blood Bank Officials Don’t Worry About AIDS.” Indiana Daily Student, January 17, 1984.
Watson, Anne. “AIDS panic exaggerates disease’s danger to public.” Indiana Daily Student, January 18, 1986.
Essig, Trisha. “Committee to set up AIDS guidelines.” Indiana Daily Student, January 21, 1986.