And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

Author:Randy Shilts [Randy Shilts]
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780285640764
Publisher: Souvenir Press (Perseus)
Published: 2011-05-16T16:00:00+00:00

June 2, 1983


“Dr. Silverman, this poster says people should have fewer sexual partners. Does that mean that if somebody had ten sexual partners a week last year that they can cut down to five sexual partners a week now and they won’t get AIDS?”

Merv Silverman looked uncomfortable. He had taken Barbara Taylor, a no-nonsense reporter for the all-news KCBS radio, and a Chronicle newsman to proudly unveil the health department’s AIDS poster, the one everybody was talking about.

“We’re trying to give a message that people will pay attention to,” said Silverman.

For five years Merv Silverman had served as a popular public health director. The media loved him; the gay community adored him. He wasn’t accustomed to such sharp questioning. Barbara Taylor, who had spent the last seven years listening to politicians, pressed on.

“Dr. Silverman, it says on this poster that people should limit their use of recreational drugs. Does that mean that if somebody was shooting up, say, three times a week, that they’d be safe from AIDS if they shot up just once a month? You’re not saying not to use recreational drugs; you say limit your use of drugs.”

“We’re trying not to lecture people,” answered Silverman. “It doesn’t do any good if you give people a message they don’t listen to.”

“I thought we were trying to tell people how not to get AIDS,” said Taylor. “Why aren’t we telling them that?”

Merv Silverman thought Barbara Taylor was taking an old-fashioned, textbook kind of approach to public health. The health director understood this approach; after all, his master’s in public health came from Harvard. The silver-haired forty-five-year-old had spent his life in the field. But AIDS was not a classical public health problem. It was sensitive. It required messages that were … appropriate.

Taylor thought the poster was a lot of bullshit and that Silverman was soft-peddling AIDS prevention so he wouldn’t have a lot of angry gay activists yelling at him for being homophobic. There’d been a lot of that in the past few days.

The reality was a mix of both Silverman’s good intentions and Taylor’s more cynical political analysis. The result was the first major public demonstration of AIDSpeak, a new language forged by public health officials, anxious gay politicians, and the burgeoning ranks of “AIDS activists.” The linguistic roots of AIDSpeak sprouted not so much from the truth as from what was politically facile and psychologically reassuring. Semantics was the major denominator of AIDSpeak jargon, because the language went to great lengths never to offend.

A new lexicon was evolving. Under the rules of AIDSpeak, for example, AIDS victims could not be called victims. Instead, they were to be called People With AIDS, or PWAs, as if contracting this uniquely brutal disease was not a victimizing experience. “Promiscuous” became “sexually active,” because gay politicians declared “promiscuous” to be “judgmental,” a major cuss word in AIDSpeak. The most-used circumlocution in AIDSpeak was “bodily fluids,” an expression that avoided troublesome words like “semen.”

Most importantly, however, the


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