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The Devastating Photo That Single-Handedly Changed The Public Opinion On The AIDS Crisis

Updated 30 Oct 2019 262.5k views10 items

The 1980s AIDS crisis wasn't initially met with compassion. It was swept under the rug, regarded as a gay issue that didn't affect most people. The Reagan Administration's views on AIDS were equal parts ignorant and ambivalent. It was clear they didn't understand the disease when in 1982, Press Secretary Larry Speakes actually joked with a reporter about the epidemic, alluding to the fact that anyone who knows about the issue must be gay themselves. Thousands of people thought you could contract AIDS simply from touching an infected person, and thousands more were unknowingly carrying around the virus thinking they were untouchable. The disease was harshly dubbed the "gay plague," and it took a few shocking celebrity tell-alls and one haunting photograph of an AIDS patient to change public opinion.

The early 1990s were a turning point for activists lobbying for government intervention and awareness. AIDS patient David Kirby unwittingly became the face of AIDS when the powerful image of him moments before his death was used in a 1992 ad campaign by clothing retailers Benetton. Just a year prior, famed basketball player Magic Johnson told a packed room of sports reporters he was HIV-positive. These two events greatly helped Americans realize the virus could affect whole communities and, by 1993, President Bill Clinton created the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

But none of this may have happened if Therese Frare wasn't invited into that haunting hospital room. Here is the story of the single photograph that changed the way people viewed AIDS.

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