In 1987, Oprah Winfrey decided to do a special episode and town hall-style discussion about HIV/AIDS and the people who were living it. She visited Williamson, West Virginia where Mike Sisco – a gay man living with AIDS took a swim in a public swimming pool. In the following days, there was an uproar from the community and the pool was closed down for fear that it was contaminated.
The startling thing about this video and the flashback to 1987 is not people’s ignorance about how HIV/AIDS is spread. In the early days, so much was unknown and to this day, there are many people in this country who still feel that it can be spread through touching or being in the same vicinity as someone who is living with it. The most disturbing part of this video is people’s ability to say the most hateful things to someone’s face. The hatred that one man spews (around 5:50 in the video) is beyond upsetting. I actually remember watching this very episode when I was 13 years old – and not yet really knowing who I was, I still had the same reaction – how could someone be so angry and so hateful to another person?
A lot has changed since then, and people like the man who is screaming his hatred are now seen as extremists. But don’t think for a moment that people like him don’t still exist in every part of our society. The only thing that has changed between then and now is that we have spoken up about who we are, we’ve educated our families and friends and we have worked to end ignorance around living as LGBT people and living with HIV/AIDS. Things are changing quickly now, and so long as we continue telling our stories – we’ll have our rights before too long.