“Ohmigod, he’s going to die.”
That’s the first thought that came to mind when I heard that LA Lakers’ Magic Johnson, then only 32 years old, was HIV-positive. That was in November 1991 exactly 20 years ago and, back then, HIV was like a death sentence. Or so it seemed to average people like me, who knew little about the virus except it meant you’d most certainly get AIDS and die.
It also opened my eyes to the fact that you could get infected with HIV without being gay or a drug user sharing needles with random people on the street. Up until that point, we all falsely believed that AIDS and HIV affected the gay community (think Rock Hudson, Liberace, Freddie Mercury). It didn’t occur to us the heterosexuals were at risk, too, especially those who used condoms and stayed away from drugs.
Two decades later, it’s embarrassing to admit I ever had these thoughts. But I can say with full confidence that I am not in the minority. Back then, there was little known about AIDS and HIV. It was an era of misinformation.
For example, most of us believed that you could contract the disease simply by kissing or even sharing a toilet seat with someone who carried the virus. I can even remember Magic Johnson’s teammates being worried that they’d contract HIV, too, since they they had hung out with Magic and sweat together on the same court.
In 1994, another athlete Olympic diver Greg Louganis confessed he had HIV. And guess what happened? He immediately got dropped by his athletic sponsors.
Today is World AIDS Day and I’m grateful for all that has changed since the 80s and 90s a time when mere mention of those four letters was enough to cause widespread panic. Yes, HIV/AIDS is still an issue it continues to claim lives and, according to the latest stats, more then 370,000 children are infected with HIV each year. But it’s reassuring to know that these old attitudes about HIV/AIDS the ones I grew up with rarely exist thanks not only to great strides in medicine but also to education. Thankfully, the age of misinformation and complete and utter ignorance is a thing of the past.