When actor Rock Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and died just months after it was announced publicly, the ailment entered the mainstream conversation. TIME’s cover story explained that though it was becoming better known that it wasn’t exclusively a “gay disease,” as it was being commonly transmitted through blood infusions, for instance, it failed to stop the widespread persecution of AIDS patients in society.
Irrational fear, paranoia and apocalyptic statements have abounded. More than one normally understated scientist has termed AIDS “the disease of the century.” Others have, in the tradition of divine justification, viewed it as God’s revenge on sodomites and junkies. There have been far more pervasive epidemics, certainly … It is the virtual certainty of death from AIDS, once the syndrome has fully developed, that makes the disease so frightening, along with the uncertainty of nearly everything else about it. Despite the progress in medical research so far, huge questions remain about its origin and fundamental nature.