Aids/Hiv in San Francisco- Affecting Its Community, Gay Population, and the Government


Michael Edward Rondeau is the name on this quilt above from the Aids Quilt Names Project foundation in Atlanta Georgia. My goal in this essay is to see and interpret things on my quilt to help me understand them more in depth through a broader aspect of life and material culture. I have been researching and writing about this quilt for a couple weeks now. I have several pages set up on this site where you can look at thick descriptions or individual research I have done on sections of the quilt.

The NAMES Project foundation-

Event in Washington DC that memorializes all the quilts and the names on them.

This foundation is in Atlanta Georgia and is on my campus at Georgia State University. The building is where thousands of quilts are kept in honor of people that have lost their lives due to Hiv/aids. Mostly family members and friends are the ones who make these quilts and every year they have a big event for everyone to come and see the quilts. The mission the NAMES Foundation has is, “To preserve, care for, and use the AIDS Memorial Quilt to foster healing, heighten awareness, and inspire action in the struggle against HIV and AIDS”. Visiting this place was very cool and I was able to pick any quilt I wanted that stood out to me and I chose the one above that was dedicated to a guy named Michael.

Everything that I am about to tell you about Michael is not from my personal opinion or from anything I have witnessed, it comes from letters I have received written by his friends and family. Michael Edward Rondeau was a person that everyone loved and was impressed by. He has been described numerous times by peers that he has an uplifting spirit that has a passion for helping others through a church he is involved in. Others say they remember him with a big smile lighting up his face, and playing the tambourine, singing songs. In the letter someone writes about his passion of giving back, whether it was helping move furniture for people, help finding a job, or even help with needing a truck to help move, he was always there to do what needed to be done. The next thing in this letter was what stood out to me the most and something that I saw the most interest in. Michael was a speaker of the truth, unlike most of us in Washington who have learned to hide the truth when it is not convenient, or pleasant, or politic, Micael could not. He was known for saying what was on his mind, things about the government when they seem unjust, the medical profession when it had no answers, and his friends when they did not live according to the faith and values the professed. From Michaels friends and family to him they say, for your faith, acts of kindness, love for family, and forthrightness, We Celebrate. I chose to introduce Michael in this way because I received letters from the NAMES Foundation that were written by his friends and family and had lots of detail about the kind of man he was and wanted to be. I found a lot more information about Michael since I had these documents and found real evidence of the kind of man he was.

Focus- Lives tortured by HIV/Aids: how Hiv/Aids affects the gay community, population, and government

I would first like to discuss how San Francisco and the Aids/Hiv epidemic started affecting its city and everyone that lived there. From people dying and needing the proper healthcare to helping the community move forward. Things like celebrations and equality I will discuss as it plays a huge role in the time Michael was alive. Things like how the gay community was affected, and how they have come so far today with equality are also things that I intend to write about. I enjoy writing about these topics because they have not always been implemented the same over the past years. Time and culture have kept changing and moving, showing evidence of success in the gay community today compared to past times. Finally I will be writing about the government and how social science and medicine play a role in this epidemic as well. Below are the sections of the quilt that I chose to research, and focused more on to see what kind of material culture I could pull out of it and learn more about.

What is Aids/Hiv- The basics

“HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is the virus that causes HIV infection. The abbreviation “HIV” can refer to the virus or to HIV infection. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.HIV attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the immune system. The loss of CD4 cells makes it difficult for the body to fight infections and certain cancers. Without treatment, HIV can gradually destroy the immune system and advance to AIDS”.

Here is a picture that better helps represent how HIV can take over you life in just a couple of years. I think its important to understand the disease before talking about it to understand the severity of it and how their really is now cure for it. In just the matter of a couple of years you could die from the disease taking over your immune system. Their were medicines to help slow down the process but those were only for people that could afford it. This is why organizations and the community had to come together to fight the epedemic together.

How it affected San Francisco…

When AIDS began devastating San Francisco’s gay community, it silenced what had been a giddy, almost boundless celebration of sexual freedom.

Thousands of men had come from across the country to the vibrant community growing along Polk Street and in the Castro. South of Market bathhouses and gay bars across the city were thriving. And in state after state, legislatures were affirming gay rights by decriminalizing sodomy after mental health groups declared that same-sex attraction was not a disorder. But the news that a strange disease was killing gay men threatened to erase gay political progress symbolized by the 1977 election of Harvey Milk to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. After 18,000 deaths in San Francisco, most of them gay men, medical advances and human intervention have transformed AIDS here from a largely terminal illness into a generally chronic one. Now the disease is a secondary issue for most gay men in the United States. In the darkest days during the first decade of the epidemic, more than half of San Francisco’s gay community was HIV-positive.

Writings like this in my research help me argue that yes life was very hard in times when Aids/Hiv first started to rise, even if you didn’t realize it because you might have been caught up in the celebrations.These celebrations showed happiness in their community before all the epidemic started to hit. People enjoyed themselves before and even after figuring out what was happening to the community. I started to realize when reading more and more that all these people wanted was the same respect that everyone else was getting. It seems simple to me, but when trying to get a nation and community together to cooperate it might not be. Things like decriminalizing sodomy after mental health groups declared that same-sex attraction was not a disorder is major! I can already tell from reading this how far today we have come from these past times. I don’t know if its just me but I never have thought of someones preference of sexual orientation being a disorder. When that became false that was a major celebratory moment for the gay community everywhere. The sexual freedom all the gay individuals were now getting to experience for the first time that made them so happy, is also what made the downfall even harder. Especially for gay men who contract most of this disease, the celebrations were described as silenced by the disease. This helped the community begin to mature and try to understand what is up next to come. Gay men started turning their focus from sexual liberation to the disease that was killing friends and loved ones really fast without an explanation.

Here is a video I have came across in my research and it is very important because it has great detail of the life’s people wanted to live and how they got that joy from finally being able to express their sexual personality. Talks about how San Francisco was THE place to be if you were wanting to go anywhere. They had the best people their and had a community of gay people that everyone seemed to get along with and love. The year of 1981 was a year where people started noticing signs of bad disease and feared for loved ones. People at the beginning were dying and the epedemic grew larger for the gay community as a whole. What this did was change everyones views of the gay community and things needed to be done to help them or it was going to keep getting worse and worse. People are wanting to share other people stories in this video and their own personal ones as well.

March on Washington-                                                

The national march on Washington for lebian and gay rights was held on October 14, 1979. The march was inspired by the assassination of an openly gay politician named Harvey Milk. It is not for sure how many people attended but it is estimated to be over 200,000 people. I thought this was a very big number for a march back in the late 70’s and it shows how many people were against the government for what they had done. This march was a gathering of mostly a bunch of different groups spread across America that believed in “banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, urging current Pres. Jimmy Carter to sign a bill to stop all discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military and federal jobs and demanding Congress include sexual orientation in the Civil Rights Act of 1954. Marchers also insisted on a repeal of anti-gay legislation and the addition of family protection laws that would allow gay and lesbian parents to receive fair custody trials”(Woulfe). These groups usually were focused on the subject in their own hometown doing their own individual projects but when the time came for all of them to come together in Washing, they showed out and made the event very successful for promoting gay and lesbian rights. To me this was cool because this is how in todays world we can use social media to simply get people locally now to do a gathering and events like these. Marching for a cause is something we still do in todays world everyday, I have even done it many of times. The march did not accomplish everything citizens wanted with their goals but it made their community of people a lot more unified and aware of what needed to be done with awareness of the disease with the government. Today I see that we are allowing transgender people in our military and that is a huge step in todays world just like it would have been back in the late 70’s. Although this is now allowed they are still facing discrimination in the workplace probably the same as the people back in the day.

Learn about the Grove-

Mike Shriver and his team at the National Aids Memorial Grove in San Francisco California have helped make a 10-acre park dedicated to remembering the lives of people that have lived with HIV/Aids. The park is a serene place where people would come alone or in groups to hold memorial services, and to remember among the rhododendrons(bright pink flower bush plant) and redwood trees. The mission of the National Aids Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from Aids are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations. This is really cool considering that the government had a lot against the gays with their belief and actions, but still put in operation a National park for the remembrance of the people that had died from HIV/Aids. People can still go their today and see the very tall redwood trees as you can also see on Michaels panel. This is a part of his quilt that shows culture in a larger aspect and also helps show how the country and San Francisco helped with the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Social Sciences and Medicines-

Henry J. Whittle who works for Global Health Sciences for the University of California helps insight a link between food insecurity and poor HIV health outcomes. Their ways to help were conducted through methods and in-depth interviews with 34 low-income PLHIV(people living with HIV) receiving food assistance from a non profit organization. Their study demonstrates how food insecurity detrimentally shapes HIV health behavior and outcomes through complex mechanisms. This is evidence from the San Francisco Bay area that PLHIV had very hard times with food and even consuming the food they got. After conducting their study these were the results they got….

Food insecurity was reported to contribute to poor ART adherence and missing scheduled clinic visits through various mechanisms, including exacerbated ART side effects in the absence of food, physical feelings of hunger and fatigue, and HIV stigma at public free-meal sites. Food insecurity led to depressive symptoms among participants by producing physical feelings of hunger, aggravating pre-existing struggles with depression, and nurturing a chronic self-perception of social failure.

I feel as if the Government did a lot to help out PLHIV, but did not do enough for EVERYONE. People that had HIV were not all treated the same with anything they did. Showing up to a free meal and being insecure was something someone living with this didn’t need to be worried about. Feelings like this is what has led some to depression which makes it much harder on the individual. There is evidence in the article of a study done and the results are shown as well to prove how people actually felt about themselves and their food insecurities.

Final Thoughts-

This project was very useful for me because I learned a lot about the gay community in certain places in the world and how they affect the government everyday. Seeing protest to better protect the lives of gay people and people living with hiv/aids against the government is powerful and shows that they work. We have protest today that resemble almost the same thing. They all want to be treated equally and the protest are whats helping the change in the system of our government. This project also taught me a lot about aids/hiv and how it badly affected the people in the 70’s and 80’s even until now. The face and vision of the aids/hiv epidemic has changed over the course of all those years as well. From the government thinking people that were gay had a mental disability to now gay people having the right to get married in todays world. Changes are always happening and its because of the previous communities that have put protest and organizations together to help better the lives of people living through the hiv/aids epidemic. Finally i would like to thank Michael and his friends and family for letting me use his quilt as the main source of my project and giving me personal information about his life. What he has done and what he did when he was alive are one of the reasons why the government has changed and bettered the lives of his fellow friends that are infected with hiv/aids.

Works Cited

Buchanan, Wyatt. “HOW AIDS CHANGED US.” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 15 Jan. 2012, www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/HOW-AIDS-CHANGED-US-2533755.php.

“National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights,” Histories of the National Mall, accessed April 8, 2018, http://mallhistory.org/items/show/286.

Shriver, Mike. “About The Grove.” National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco, 2018 National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco, 2018, www.aidsmemorial.org/about/.

Whittle, Henry J. “How Food Insecurity Contributes to Poor HIV Health Outcomes: Qualitative Evidence from the San Francisco Bay Area.” Social Science & Medicine, Pergamon, 19 Oct. 2016, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616305561?via%3Dihub#!