Twenty Years Later, Nation, World, Losing Struggle Against HIV/AIDS

June 01, 2001

March on Washington scheduled for Sunday; meanwhile, new study finds alarming infection rates among young

Former AIDS "czar" Sandra Thurman calls it "an epidemic the likes of which humankind has never seen."

Surgeon General David Satcher says HIV/AIDS infection rates among young Black gays are approaching the rates in the African nation of Botswana.

Phill Wilson, founder of the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute, says newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) show "we have a screaming emergency...and we’ve failed in developing prevention messages for young black men who have sex with men."

"For some people, AIDS has become a manageable, chronic disease due to access to more effective drug treatments," said NGLTF Political Director Tim McFeeley. "While this is good news, it has perhaps led to a sense of complacency about the disease within our community, particularly young people who do not remember the early stages of the epidemic. As we mark the 20th anniversary, we must demand that the Bush administration revise its funding proposal for HIV prevention and treatment, and we must demand that schools implement the safe-sex education curricula that we know lowers the incidence rate of this virus."

On June 5, 1981, CDC first documented the existence of a syndrome of severe immune deficiency in five gay men in Los Angeles. Twenty years later, nearly 450,000 lives have been lost in the United States, and 22 million people have died worldwide. In some African nations, 20 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive. And 40 million children in Africa will be orphaned during the next decade.

This week, CDC released startling new data that shows young gay men are contracting HIV at a rate not seen in more than a decade. A survey of 2,942 gay men ages 23 to 29 found that 4.4 percent were becoming infected with the HIV virus each year. The pace of new infections varied greatly by race and ethnicity. It was 2.5 percent among whites, 3.5 percent among Latinos and 14.7 percent among Blacks.

This Sunday, The NAMES Project will sponsor a march on the U.S. Capitol. The march will begin at noon at Lafayette Park (across from the White House). The NAMES Project also is hosting a reading of the more than 80,000 names of people who have died of AIDS who appear on the Quilt. The reading began Friday morning and will continue through Sunday afternoon.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.