Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS

GRID, or gay-related immunodeficiency, was renamed AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, by medical researchers to better reflect that the disease is not exclusive to gay men. Still, intense public paranoia shadowed the disease. It was not until actor Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 from AIDS-related complications that the United States saw major political and governmental concern and action. Discrimination, misinformation, and public denial about the disease, however, have persisted into the twenty-first century.

Summary of Event

The AIDS crisis in North America began when the first cases of a rare form of pneumonia were reported in gay men starting in 1980. Those infected with the disease were treated as if they were at fault for their illness because of their “lifestyles,” namely, their homosexuality. Initially called GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency), the disease seemed to affect mostly gay men and drug users. One popular but discriminatory belief was that the disease affected only the “3 h’s”—homosexuals, heroin users, and Haitians. Doctors soon identified hemophiliacs as a fourth “h.” As news spread of the disease’s presence outside the groups initially identified, doctors felt that a name change was needed to better reflect the disease itself and also to help stem the tide of growing prejudice. [kw]Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS (July, 1982)
[kw]Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS, Gay-Related (July, 1982)
[kw]AIDS, Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed (July, 1982)
[c]HIV-AIDS;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
[c]Health and medicine;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
[c]Science;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
[c]Civil rights;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
[c]Government and politics;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
[c]Marches, protests, and riots;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
[c]Organizations and institutions;July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS[1540]
Kramer, Larry
Montagnier, Luc
Gallo, Robert
Shilts, Randy
Dugas, Gaëtan
Hudson, Rock
Jones, Cleve
Reagan, Ronald
White, Ryan

At this time, public opprobrium swamped activism. The Christian Right, Christian Right;and HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS] already driving the backlash against the 1970’s gay rights revolution, mobilized its forces to argue that the disease was a punishment from God sent to wipe out homosexuals. Uncertainty about how the disease was actually spread led those who had AIDS to suffer additionally from emotional and physical isolation. People refused to drink from the same cups or even touch those who had the disease (or those believed to have the disease), and the public extended the stigma attached to anyone who fell into the identified groups.

In January, 1982, dramatist and gay rights activist Larry Kramer had formed Gay Men’s Health Crisis Gay Men’s Health Crisis[Gay Mens Health Crisis] (GMHC). Organized in New York City, the group had focused its attention on the practical needs of people living with AIDS seven months before the AIDS acronym appeared. Volunteers headed up everything from counseling groups to therapy rounds. GMHC quickly set up patient treatments and a buddy program. One of the key reasons the group formed was the rise of a rare form of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma Kaposi’s sarcoma[Kaposis sarcoma] among gay men. The medical field would soon determine that having a weakened immune system increased a person’s susceptibility to other diseases and infections, including Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The first congressional hearings on AIDS were held in April of 1982, focusing on Kaposi’s sarcoma, called “gay cancer” at the time, and led to the release of just one million research dollars by the National Cancer Institute. National Cancer Institute;and early AIDS funding[AIDS funding] The limited funding was symptomatic of the Reagan administration’s apathy toward the disease. Throughout the 1980’s, the Food and Drug Administration Food and Drug Administration;early AIDS research[AIDS research] (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control Centers for Disease Control;and early AIDS research[early AIDS research] (CDC), and National Institutes of Health National Institutes of Health;and AIDS research[AIDS research] (NIH) engaged in a turf war over who would get the meager funding, staff, and authority to conduct AIDS research. AIDS research;early years of

In July, 1982, doctors at the CDC would change the early name of the disease, GRID, to AIDS. This same month, the first hemophiliac Hemophilia, and AIDS cases were reported. Hemophiliacs feared being associated with the same disease that afflicted gays, particularly as public venom surrounding the epidemic ran high. In 1982, the CDC reported around 900 documented AIDS cases. By the end of 1983, there were nearly 3,000 cases, and 1,283 people had died.

In 1987, Randy Shilts released an unprecedented exposé of the early years of the epidemic. His book, And the Band Played On, And the Band Played On (book) now a classic work on HIV-AIDS, attacks the Reagan administration for its total failure to address the epidemic, and it chronicles the disease’s spread from the late 1970’s until 1984. The book also promotes the theory that a single man, Canadian flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, was responsible for the spread of AIDS in North America. It has since been determined, however, that Dugas was not the so-called “patient zero.” “Patient zero,” and AIDS epidemic[Patient zero] The length of incubation for the virus is generally longer than was previously thought, meaning many of the people thought to have been infected by Dugas probably already had the virus. African in origin, the disease likely arrived in North America from a variety of sources simultaneously.


Actor Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS-related complications was one of the factors that forced President Reagan to face the proportions of the crisis, even if he did so two years after Hudson died. Indeed, Hudson’s homosexuality had long been a public “secret.” He remained quite popular until his death, and it was his death that would finally attract nationwide attention to the AIDS epidemic.

By July, 1982, when the CDC coined the AIDS moniker, the Centers had become involved in research into the disease, though the funding battle made advances more difficult. One of the most important impacts of the new name for the disease was its identification as something that could not be isolated to one social group, making knowledge of the disease critical. However, the Reagan administration was not willing to release additional funding for AIDS research. It is not surprising, then, that it was not until 1984 that Robert Gallo identified HIV as the source of the disease, although he did so one year after French researcher Luc Montagnier made the same discovery. Gallo and Montagnier ultimately shared the Nobel Prize as codiscoverers of the virus because Gallo, although second to isolate and identify HIV, was the first researcher to publicly argue that a retrovirus (such as HIV) could be the source of AIDS.

This discovery of HIV as the source of AIDS was one of the most important impacts of AIDS research, and it became a cause of its own. As soon as researchers had identified HIV, scientists could identify the ways the virus spread and, hence, develop guidelines to help prevent its transmission. Ultimately, knowing the virus could help find a cure. Again, government apathy played a heavy role in AIDS research in its early years, as drug companies charged exorbitant prices for the few AIDS and HIV medications they developed.

Gay and lesbian social activism, which had lost some of its momentum in the early 1980’s, once more became a part of national politics. The need for AIDS activism AIDS activism became clear. Groups such as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) protested against drug Drugs and medications;and ACT UP[ACT UP] companies, which overcharged for necessary medications. Persons with AIDS, and their friends and families, recognized how important it was to disseminate facts about AIDS and to fight misinformation and discrimination. Additionally, the GLBT community began to urge safer-sex practices to protect against the spread of HIV-AIDS. The combination of activism and scientific facts about the way the disease was spread combined to decrease discrimination and increase public awareness.

Largely because of widespread social activism at a time when government was apathetic toward the disease, social attitudes began to change. When Ryan White, a hemophiliac, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of thirteen in 1984, he suffered intense isolation in his community of Kokomo, Indiana. Ultimately, his family moved to Cicero, Indiana, where White was greeted with respect. He died there in 1990. In the intervening years, White dedicated himself to AIDS awareness, drawing national attention and increasing AIDS activism.

In 1985, the same year Hudson died, the FDA Food and Drug Administration;licensing of HIV antibodies test[HIV antibodies test] finally licensed a test for HIV antibodies. This meant that individuals and the nation’s blood supply could be screened for AIDS, drastically reducing the number of people exposed to the disease through blood transfusion and allowing early identification of the disease among its sufferers. Additionally, activist Cleve Jones organized an effort to display the names of one thousand San Franciscans who had died of AIDS. When he and others placed placards bearing those names on a wall after a candlelight march, the effect was much like a patchwork quilt. Jones went on to organize the NAMES Project Foundation, NAMES Project Foundation which generated the AIDS Memorial Quilt. AIDS Memorial Quilt
AIDS awareness Also a long-term AIDS survivor, Jones has endeavored to keep the NAMES Project as nonpolitical as possible in order to avoid excluding from participating in the project those not comfortable with politics yet who mourn for the loss of a loved one to AIDS.

A key year for AIDS activism was 1987, a year in which Reagan would finally admit the proportions of the health crisis faced by the nation, and the CDC published its criteria for diagnosing AIDS. This year also marked the first display of the AIDS quilt. Also in 1987, ACT UP ACT UP;Wall Street protest took militant action against the high cost of AIDS drugs and government indifference to the crisis. They staged a protest that shut down Wall Street in New York City, an action that drew worldwide attention. The same year, Reagan asked Surgeon General Surgeon general, U.S. C. Everett Koop Koop, C. Everett to research AIDS. Koop issued a strong document in favor of protecting against the spread of the disease by encouraging AIDS education, starting as early in life as possible, and the widespread use of condoms. Koop opposed mandatory testing without legal protection because he believed that such testing would discourage a person who had AIDS—or who believed he or she might be HIV-positive—from checking his or her status for fear of recriminations.

Ultimately, social activism has been the force most responsible for increasing awareness about the disease and for decreasing its stigma. Activism also has been responsible for a reduction in the number of new cases, more reasonable costs for AIDS drugs (though activism in this area persists and is still greatly needed), increased research into the disease, and a search for its cure. By the end of the 1980’s, it was generally accepted that AIDS affected large portions of the world, leading to its status as a pandemic. The CDC estimates that, through 2002, 886,575 individuals had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States, and 501,669 of them had died. GRID

Further Reading

  • Auerbach, D. M., W. W. Darrow, H. W. Jaffe, and J. W. Curran. “Cluster of Cases of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: Patients Linked by Sexual Contact.” American Journal of Medicine 76 (1984): 487-492.
  • Behrman, Greg. The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time. New York: Free Press, 2004.
  • Kayal, Philip M. Bearing Witness: Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Politics of AIDS. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993.
  • Levinson, Jacob. The Secret Epidemic: The Story of AIDS and Black America. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
  • Moss, Andrew R., D. Osmond, P. Bacchetti, J.-C. Chermann, F. Barre-Sinoussi, and J. Carlson. “Risk Factors for AIDS and HIV Seropositivity in Homosexual Men.” American Journal of Epidemiology 125 (1987): 1035-1047.
  • Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
  • White, Ryan, and Anne Marie Cunningham. My Own Story. New York: Dial Books, 1991.

June 5 and July 3, 1981: Reports of Rare Diseases Mark Beginning of AIDS Epidemic

Spring, 1984: AIDS Virus Is Discovered

July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS

September, 1986: AZT Treats People with AIDS

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

June 27, 1988: Report of the Presidential AIDS Commission

December 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day

1989: Act Up Paris Is Founded

June 25, 1993: Clinton Appoints First AIDS Czar