THE HIV OUTBREAK DURING THE LATE 80s AND EARLY 90s

By Neil Martis (He/She/They)

Rollis University/New York Historical Society

HIV and the syndrome it causes, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, were unknown in 1981 but had become household terms and the number one threat to public health by the late 1980s. Originally it was identified as a “gay disease” because gay men were one of the primary groups afflicted.


On May 11, 1982, in an article titled “New Homosexual Disorder Worries Health Officials,” the New York Times first publishes the phrase Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, or GRID, contributing to the widespread misconception that AIDS only affects gay men. HIV/AIDS activists, medical professionals, artists, and a number of people with AIDS who went public with their diagnoses despite the stigma surrounding the disease eventually spurred a massive response from the U.S. government and the international health community.

Artists like Madonna have been instrumental in eradicating the stigma about AIDS being associated with the LGBTQIA+ community. On September 7, 1990, Madonna was honored with the Commitment to Life Award and performed Vogue at the Commitment to Life IV benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California.


With advancements in Medical Science,there are effective methods now to prevent getting HIV through sex or drug use, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).