Known as the “AIDS Poster Boy” for his efforts to humanize the disease. He was one of the first individuals affected by the epidemic, and was also the first person in the United States to publicly reveal himself as a person living with AIDS. He wrote numerous articles about the disease in the local gay newspaper, the San Francisco Sentinel.
In the spirit of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s critique of stigma, Campbell wrote in one article: “Brothers and sisters, we understand… that by making us different, you protect yourself from “It.” However, despite our understanding of your need to see yourselves as different, we need to tell you that we are not.” More >
We Were Here is the first documentary to take a deep and reflective look back at the arrival and impact of AIDS in San Francisco. It explores how the City’s inhabitants were affected by, and how they responded to, that calamitous epidemic.
Though a San Francisco-based story, We Were Here extends beyond San Francisco and beyond AIDS itself. It speaks to our capacity as individuals to rise to the occasion, and to the incredible power of a community coming together with love, compassion, and determination.
Michael Callen, Richard Berkowitz, Joseph Sonnabend. 1983
At that time the cause of AIDS was unknown; isolation of the virus, yet to be named HIV, had only been reported in the same month that our booklet was published. But by then we did know that AIDS was sexually transmitted, that exposure to body fluids was involved. We had good reasons, if not proof at that time, to believe that semen was a major vehicle of transmission. We did not then know what it was that was being transmitted.
Even if we didn’t have the answer to the question of what it was that was being transmitted, we felt that it was justifiable to recommend condom use, which could prevent transmission either of an as yet unrecognized new virus, or repeated infections with a known virus.
Bobbi Campbell at the Clinical Nursing Conference on AIDS at NIH, October 7, 1983.
This is an excerpt from Sunday, October 9th, 1983 entry:
…We had to get up early in the morning to go to Bethesda for the Nat’l Institute of Health’s Nursing Clinical Conference on AIDS. I had threatened to disrupt the conference and denounce NIH if PWA’s [People with AIDS] were not included, so Artie [Artie Felsen] & I got to do a “poster session” off in a separate room. We had two posters (they were a drag to carry on the plane). One had photos of PWAs and one had literature that we had developed. Interestingly, the nurses protected themselves professionally from feelings by glancing at the photos and flocking to the printed word. Many people didn’t look twice, much less speak, to the real people. Dressing for the part, I was in white pants, white shoes, and a clinical lab coat….
In 1982 the San Francisco Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence produced what was to become a landmark document in the emerging AIDS crisis. Play Fair was probably the first safer sex material written by and for gay men.
The brochure was probably also the first such document to use humour to put across an extremely serious message.
“Fight the Fear with the Facts” poster, AIDS Project Los Angeles, circa 1986
Dedicated and extensive networks emerged to care for people with AIDS. Across the country, volunteers delivered food, visited the homebound, and staffed hotlines to answer questions. Their efforts existed in direct opposition to the profound societal abandonment many people with AIDS had experienced.
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Police officers stand watch over activists at Storm the NIH protest, May 21, 1990
In one of its most dramatic and effective national protests, ACT UP chapters from across the country occupied the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on May 21, 1990. During Storm the NIH, protestors staged a “die in” and plastered buildings with signs and banners to illustrate their demands for governmental action on AIDS treatment. Responding to a wave of activism, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, initiated changes in the testing of AIDS drugs.