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UPDATED – ‘Nightline’ Report: World AIDS Day 2020, Uniting and Surviving in a Pandemic

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

“Learn everything you can right now treating people with AIDS.  It’s not the last pandemic you’re going to see.”

– JJC, RN, NP  St Vincent’s Hospital, NYC

It’s been nearly four decades since the New York Times first reported “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals,” over three decades since the World Health Organization declared AIDS a global pandemic, and in 1988 designated December 1st World AIDS Day.

It’s been nearly four decades and there is still no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS which has killed 33 million people with an estimated 38 million people living with the disease. According to WHO, “690 000 people died from HIV-related causes in 2019 and 1.7 million people were newly infected.”


Thanks to global cooperation more people living with HIV are enjoying full lives. From the WHO website, “International efforts to respond to HIV, coverage of services has been steadily increasing. In 2019, 68% of adults and 53% of children living with HIV globally were receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART)

But in the beginning, there was nothing. For two years it didn’t even have a name except “the gay disease.” We were moved to action to care for ourselves and each other because we knew AIDS wasn’t a hoax; we saw our friends and family dying horrific deaths. We only had to look around to know the truth and demand action.

If not for our Community rallying together and caring to save ourselves while raging at a Republican President and Congress who knew what was happening but did nothing, we’d surely have been decimated beyond existence.  The work, activism, and immeasurable achievements of groups like ACTUP, GMHC, BC/EFA, amfAR, the nurses of 5B in San Francisco, and all the others who united to turn the tide of AIDS are arguably our Communities greatest achievement.

While we were being blamed for AIDS, judged for AIDS, and largely ignored by those who could do most to help us, our Community united in our sickness and our grief and our anger and showed the country how to survive a pandemic. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of today’s coronavirus pandemic is America refusing to believe what they see around them or learn from our Community’s history.  When another Republican President and Congress have failed in the face of a pandemic, Americans have failed to unite and turn the tide of COVID19.

But our Community survived then, and we will survive again, united.


ACTUP demonstration outside of Trump Tower on Fifth Ave NYC in 1989 (Photo credit: Ronny Viggiani as Dorothy by Lee Snider 10/31/1989)

Read the inspiring story below of ACTUP’s activism behind the photo.

“Surrender Donald! A Queer Call to Action Since 1989”

Thank you ABC NEWS Nightline for the exceptional report on how our Community survived the AIDS pandemic and the lessons we learned for today.



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