We are making a feature length documentary film that reflects how HIV and AIDS affected gay men, their friends and partners during the first years of the epidemic in the UK before there was effective treatment. Our aim is to interview and record the experiences of 100 people who have been touched by HIV and AIDS. According to government figures, 13,000 mostly gay men died before 1998 when effective combination therapies became widely available in the UK. We want to remember the lost generation of gay men who died during those years as their experience is barely recorded. And we want to tell the stories of those who survived.
Two film makers are looking for your help to make this documentary about those early years as well as the legacy of living with HIV today. Paul puts it like this:
“We are looking for help in making a film about one of the most important periods in recent gay history: the devastation caused by AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. We need your stories, experiences and stories of those you knew and lost during that time. In the early 1980s the first news reached the UK of a fatal disease affecting men in America. It had been given the label Gay Related Immune Deficiency and was principally found among men who used bath houses in San Francisco and New York. To men in the UK – who might only dream of a chance to visit a bath-house, it seemed remote, strange, and something that would never affect us.”
In 1982, GRID was renamed AIDS. The next year a virus was identified as the likely cause, but HIV wasn’t used as a term until 1986. Although the first years were largely ignored by mainstream media, this rapidly changed, especially in the UK. “By 1987, we had John Hurt announcing on TV adverts that AIDS was a killer, there was no known cure, and it was spreading worldwide, while the TV screen slapped our faces with tombstones and lilies like some Hollywood horror movie.”
“When images from that advert fluttered through the letterbox of all UK residents in a massive government campaign, it still seemed remote to me. But soon after, HIV began to affect my own life, first from people I knew only in passing, then to my own friends, my lovers and myself. It was a devastating time for everyone involved, changing all our lives forever and it worked fast and relentlessly. The spread of HIV and AIDS, in the UK and the resulting consequences were for me and many others, overwhelming. I knew many people who died, sometimes so quickly that it was hard to follow. People I regularly saw socially suddenly no longer appeared – they were there one week and the next news was that they had died. There were the hospital visits, the early treatments, the fear of watching those close to us fall apart both mentally and physically and the ultimate sadness of people dying when they were still so young.”
The public spectacle played out a horror film in real time – a holocaust of the gay community as many would have it. To much of the mainstream media and many right wing politicians – the Conservative government hung its policies on a framework of moral “family values” – gay men deserved to get AIDS as a consequence of our ‘unnatural sexual behaviour’.
In response to public bigotry – and the physical problems from complicated health problems, many men withdrew or became disconnected from their friends and family. It was difficult to be out and public about living with HIV and AIDS and fighting – and losing the fight – against AIDS related infections. In many cases the shame, fear, and ignorance contributed to this history and these people being lost from our own community history.
“I wondered what happened to those people and friends I knew, whose history had ‘disappeared’. Why have we let the life and death stories of those we knew so well be so swept away? Surely their stories were the ones we should know about, learn from, celebrate, give freedom to – allow a small space to let them speak freely in a way they were unable to as they were rushed towards the end of life? Or were there others out of the public eye, who did have a voice that went unheard? What of our own stories and experience? What is it to be a ‘survivor’ of those times? How does that affect us today?”
“An item on Sky News recently reported that it was quite likely that anyone with HIV today would not die directly of it, and that drug therapy was so advanced one would probably lead a ‘normal life’ with a ‘normal life span’. Just how normal did the reporter imagine life could be for anyone surviving those times?”
“For me the report came across as ‘forget the past’ and was the ultimate act of disappearing the experiences of people who lived thorough that time and died and people who lived through that time who are living now. The ‘gay holocaust’ of the time is a period of history not properly described or explored in this time. It is as if many of those who died, did so in a sort of secrecy, sometimes with the conspiracy of public and private influence.
I want to make a film to give voices to some of those who were lost, forgotten or disappeared, through the experiences and recollections of those who survived and mark this special period of our history.”