In the early 1980s a mysterious infectious disease began to kill gays, injected drug users, and blood transfusion patients. Then unnamed, with research funding and support for the dying unavailable, the HIV/AIDS virus would eventually take nearly one hundred million lives.
With America’s largest gay population, New York was hit early and hard by AIDS. Furthermore, a silent City Hall and sensationalist tabloid headlines spread homophobia and panic. Yet within months the city’s gay community and concerned medical professionals mobilized, fighting disinformation and attacks on sufferers’ civil liberties, and lobbying for funds for medical and social outreach.
In forceful narrative and vivid images, AIDS in New York: The First Five Years, by Jean Ashton, recaptures the first five years of the epidemic, culminating in the widespread public awareness of its dangers following the death of movie star Rock Hudson in 1985. It speaks especially to those too young to remember those painful years and those who conflate New York's AIDS story with later successful gay advocacy and drug breakthroughs. It reminds readers that epidemics make social and ethical demands, test the values of a society, and kill through taboos as well as disease.