Sex, Drugs And HIV-Phobia: 10 Lessons From Early AIDS Awareness Posters

Click for larger image

1987 – I Have AIDS. Please Hug Me.
created by the Center for Attitudinal Healing

In 1984, 13-year old Ryan White learned that he had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion as a three-day-old. When White tried to return to his middle school, 117 parents and 50 teachers signed a petition asking the administrators to forbid his return. The day they school board finally allowed White to return, half of his 360 schoolmates stayed home.

White’s school required him to eat with disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms and forbade him from taking gym class. His family faced hostility, homophobia, legal and death threats—when someone fired a bullet through their window, they finally changed neighborhoods.

The poster’s colorful child-like drawing and compassionate plea for acceptance stem directly from White’s story, stressing the need for empathy and knowledge over ignorance and discrimination.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #aidsat30 #hiv/aids stories and more


  • Mike in Asheville

    Oh, yes, Number 10, “Be a Rubber Man”

    Loved that one, all the celebrity of guys asking me about posing for that campaign — even more free drinks at the bars! Even an artist friend for whom I was modeling, asked me about being the Rubber Man.

    It wasn’t me but boy did we look alike; hooked up one fun night, and yes, we were both Rubber Men.

  • Stop and think

    Number 4, good old Teflon president Reagan isn’t responsible for anything. He’s just a figurehead, after all, little more then the queen of England…….

  • Observer

    Why are these warning messages unintelligible? “Dabbling with your life”??? AIDSgate? It’s one long exercise in confusing people, when what the public really needed was clarity.

  • Damon

    I could be wrong, but it sure looks like number 4 and number 10 were the only helpful posters.

  • Andy

    Thanks for number 6 Daniel. Since queerty is just brimming with breastfeeders with HIV, that was completely useful and relevant information that doesn’t in any way call into question your motivation in publishing it.

  • Daniel Villarreal

    @Andy: You’re right Andy. No HIV+ women read this site. Nor do mothers. Just intelligent men like you.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @WillBFair: I suppose for the “glass is half empty” crowd, you are somewhat right. But for those of us in the “glass is half full” group, the variety of posters appeared because concerned citizens saw areas where information was lacking and decided to do something about that.

    To critique that national response is certainly valid. The truth of the matter is that until ActUP began its demonstrations, demonstrations that often inconvenienced large segments of the general public — like the tens-of-thousands of commuters on the Golden Gate Bridge, there was little governmental and national response.

    You use of “stupidity and incompetence” is dangles over the individual groups that did take action. And amid the excruciating pain caused by the stupidity and incompetence of governmental leadership, it is exactly the leadership of grass-root groups that made things happen on both the education and research/treatment fronts. I am alive today because these various groups did do something, and collectively, got a national response started.

  • WillBFair

    @Mike in Asheville: I’m not one for the glass half full/empty meme. I thank goodness for the new drugs, as we all should. And I’m happy that so many lives have been saved. But ninety some percent of my generation are gone. So it’s not easy for me to fall back on a cliche.
    I’m talking about gay leadership’s incompetence. Instead of working on prevention from day one, they sat around blaming others and spitting profanity at anyone who broached the subject. Now it’s thirty years later. We’ve got a ton of people on the meds. And they still haven’t addressed prevention. Please.
    At any rate, I’m glad to hear that you’re doing ok.

  • DenverBarbie

    @Andy: @Daniel Villarreal: Looks like he caught you, Daniel. Might as well fess up- you’re trying to raise us for your heterosexual, right-wing, militia, aren’t you?
    Or worse yet, perhaps you are trying to include women in the conversation?! Absolutely OUTRAGEOUS!

  • Andy

    @DenverBarbie: Oh please, its not like there’s an abundance of HIV+ mothers who regularly read a site called “Queerty”. To hide behind the idea that he’s “trying to include women in the conversation” in this context is to literally use them as human shields. That is every bit as loathsome as the repeated snarky opportunism, serophobia and assorted other bigotries that define his writing.

  • Andy

    @WillBFair: You keep saying things like “they still haven’t addressed prevention”. What exactly are you talking about? What sort of “prevention message” are you looking for?

  • eric

    thank you for sharing these posters.

  • Jaime

    Dear Andy. I am a heterosexual woman and gay rights advocate. I read all of these posters.

    Dear Daniel, thank you for considering me and others like me when others might not. I thoroughly enjoyed this forray into my culture’s not so distant past. I was born in 1985, so seeing media such as this is way more enlightening than my brief, public school textbook education on the history of aids in America.

  • Christopher Banks

    It’s interesting that the UNAIDS theme for World AIDS Day this year was “getting to zero”, which is a great utopian vision, but I think it’s setting yourself up for failure when so many things are missing from the current battle (apologies to those who don’t like war analogies).

    The three components of “getting to zero” were zero new HIV infections, zero new AIDS-related deaths, and zero stigma. Big goals, right?

    I wrote a piece about what I think needs to change before we can start setting ourselves such ambitious goals. It refers specifically to New Zealand, where I live, but I think the messages are universal to gay communities in Western countries worldwide:

Comments are closed.