An article in the Windy City Times this week took a historical look back at the AIDS epidemic in Chicago and across the country.

At least three decades ago doctors started noticing illnesses impacting their gay male patients. And soon it became clear that an epidemic was at hand.

The story notes that, during the summer of 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR, June 5 and July 3) first reported that a new disease might be in our midst. It could have been around for years, but was just at that time starting to exhibit itself.

The individual illnesses striking these young gay men were otherwise rare—pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and Kaposi's sarcoma, the latter manifested as purple lesions. These and other strange illnesses had started to be diagnosed some 30 months prior to the 1981 MMWR reports. In January 1982 the syndromes together began to be called GRID, gay-related immunodeficiency, and the acronym stood until July of that year, when it was renamed AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

The rumors and media reports, including those in the gay press, only trickled out for many months. But by 1983—'84, it was clear a major epidemic was at hand, one that struck more than gay men.

In Chicago, while existing organizations such as Howard Brown Memorial Clinic (now Howard Brown Health Center) and Gay Horizons (now Center on Halsted) tried to cope with new legal, psychosocial, and health issues facing the community, more support would be needed.


Within three years, major institutions were founded, many of them still in existence in 2011. These included AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Chicago House, Open Hand (now Vital Bridges), Test Positive Aware Network, Stop AIDS, Kupona Network, AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, Chicago Women's AIDS Project, and dozens more. Eventually, more than 100 agencies dealt with some aspect of AIDS, from fundraising events, such as AIDS Walk and the AIDS Ride, to service groups, research and prevention organizations.

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