News & Politics

AIDS in Washington: A Timeline

A look back on AIDS through the years, from its first report in 1981 to the creation of DC's commission to combat AIDS in 2011

Thirty years after the first AIDS cases were identified, Washingtonians reflect on what the early years of the epidemic were like, the toll the disease has taken, and why there’s an ongoing crisis in DC in A Lost Generation, an article published in the July 2011 issue of the Washingtonian. This timeline is an accompaniment to that piece. 

June 5, 1981: The CDC issues its first report on the mysterious disease.

July 3, 1981: The New York Times publishes an article, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.”

April 1982: The first congressional hearings are held on HIV/AIDS.

September 1982: The disease is given the name acquired immune deficiency syndrome—or AIDS.

April 23, 1984: Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler announces that Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute has found the virus that causes the disease.

August 1985: Ryan White, a teenager from Indiana, is barred from school because he has AIDS.

1985: Medical facilities begin screening the blood supply.

September 17, 1985:
President Reagan talks about AIDS in public for the first time.

October 2, 1985: Actor Rock Hudson dies of AIDS.

January 14, 1986: Dr. Anthony Fauci tells the New York Times that 1 million Americans have contracted HIV/AIDS.

March 1987: The FDA approves AZT, the first antiretroviral drug.

May 1987: Elizabeth Taylor convinces President Reagan to speak at an AIDS fundraiser in DC.

October 11, 1987:
The Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights draws 500,000 protestors. The AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed on the Mall.

December 20, 1988: Max Robinson, the first African-American network-news anchor, dies of AIDS.

1989: Dancer Alvin Ailey and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (above) die of AIDS.

1990: Ryan White dies at age 18. Congress passes the Ryan White CARE Act.

1991: The red ribbon becomes the symbol of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

November 7, 1991: Magic Johnson announces that he is HIV-positive.

1992: AIDS becomes the number-one killer of men ages 25 to 44.

April 25, 1993: The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation is a milestone for the LGBT-rights movement.

February 6, 1993: Tennis’s Arthur Ashe dies of AIDS-related pneumonia.

1996: The AIDS “cocktail” arrives.

1997: AIDS-related deaths in the US decline by more than 40 percent.

1998: President Clinton authorizes $156 million for AIDS prevention, care, and education.

January 28, 2003: President Bush announces a $15-billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, targeting 15 countries mostly in Africa and the Caribbean.

March 2009: Health officials announce that at least 3 percent of DC residents have HIV or AIDS.

2011: DC mayor Vincent Gray convenes a commission to combat AIDS in the District.

This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.