On June 5, 1981, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first warning about a relatively rare form of pneumonia among a small group of young gay men in Los Angeles. This was later determined to be AIDS-related. Since that time, tens of millions of people have acquired HIV worldwide. Since that time, many new highly effective treatment and preventive measures have become available, although not universally accessible. Thank you to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s oldest AIDS service organization, for producing this timeline!



  • The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an alarming occurrence of a rare cancer (Kaposi’s sarcoma) in otherwise healthy gay men. They first call the disease “gay cancer” but soon rename it GRID (“gay-related immune deficiency”).
  • The New York Times announces a “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.”
  • Eighty men gather in writer Larry Kramer’s apartment to address the “gay cancer” and to raise money for research. This informal meeting provides the foundation of what will soon become Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).
  • The CDC declares the new disease an epidemic.
  • First mainstream news coverage of the CDC’s June 5 MMWR by the Associated Press and the LA Times on the same day it is issued. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on it the next day.


  • Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White officially establish GMHC.
  • An answering machine in the home of GMHC volunteer Rodger McFarlane (who will become GMHC’s first paid director) acts as the world’s first AIDS hotline — it receives over 100 calls the first night.
  • GMHC produces and distributes 50,000 free copies of its first newsletter to doctors, hospitals, clinics and the Library of Congress.
  • GMHC opens its first office on West 22nd Street.
  • GMHC creates the landmark Buddy program to assist PWAs (People with AIDS) with their day-to-day needs.
  • The CDC changes the name of the illness called GRID to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) rejects a proposed study to determine whether women get AIDS.
  • In late 1982 AIDS and the first federal funds ($5.6 million) are allocated for medical research.


  • At the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference in Denver, PWAs found the National Associate of People with AIDS and adopt the Denver Principles, a cornerstone of the AIDS movement articulating the rights of PWAs.
  • GMHC funds litigation of the first AIDS discrimination suit by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
  • A major outbreak of AIDS in Central Africa is reported, signaling the beginning of the epidemic in developing countries.
  • The U.S. Public Health Service issues recommendations for preventing transmission of HIV through sexual contact and blood transfusions.
  • GMHC sponsored the first major fund-raising event for AIDS – a benefit performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
  • AIDS Candlelight Memorial held for the first time.


  • GMHC publishes its first safer sex guidelines, “Healthy Sex is Great Sex.”
  • Luc Montagnier in France (and later, Dr. Dr. Robert Gallo in the U.S.) isolates a new retrovirus, later known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV.
  • CDC states that abstention from intravenous drug use and reduction of needle-sharing “should also be effective in preventing transmission of the virus”.


  • Rock Hudson’s revelation that he has AIDS, and his subsequent trip to France for experimental drug treatment, makes the disease a household word and underscores the plight of PWAs in accessing cutting-edge medications.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test kit to screen for antibodies to HIV.
  • The American Association of Blood Banks and the Red Cross begin screening the country’s blood supply for HIV antibodies, rejecting gay donors.
  • GMHC’s art auction, held at Sotheby’s, is the world’s first million-dollar AIDS fundraiser.
  • The First International AIDS Conference on AIDS is held in Atlanta.
  • The CDC estimates as many as 1 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.
  • Ryan White, an Indiana teenager with AIDS, is barred from school; goes on to speak out publicly against AIDS stigma and discrimination.
  • “An Early Frost”, a TV movie featuring a gay PWA, premieres.
  • New York production of “The Normal Heart”, by playwright Larry Kramer, opens; first major play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic.


  • New York City’s first anonymous testing site opens.
  • GMHC holds the first AIDS Walk in New York; over 4,500 walkers raise $710,000.
  • The Reagan administration urges the public not to panic since AIDS is confined to gay men and intravenous drug users.
  • AZT, the first drug used to treat AIDS, begins clinical trials.


  • AZT, the first drug approved to fight HIV is marketed; the cost of a year’s supply is $10,000, making it one of the most expensive drugs ever sold. The recommended dose is one capsule every four hours around the clock – a regimen later shown to be extremely toxic.
  • After a six-year silence, President Ronald Regan uses the word “AIDS” in public for the first time and establishes Presidential Commission on HIV (Watkins Commission).
  • The AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) is initiated to ensure the availability of medications to uninsured to underinsured PWAs.
  • The U.S. shuts its doors to HIV-infected immigrants and travelers.
  • S. FDA sanctions first human testing of candidate vaccine against HIV.
  • S. FDA creates new class of experimental drugs, Treatment Investigational New Drugs (INDs), which accelerates drug approval by two to three years.
  • “And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic”, a history of the early years of the epidemic by Randy Shilts, is published.
  • AIDS Memorial Quilt displayed on National Mall in Washington, DC for first time.
  • First issue of “AIDS Treatment News” published to provide HIV treatment


  • Condom use is shown to be effective; preventing sexual transmission of HIV.
  • For the first time, more new AIDS cases in NYC are attributed to needle sharing than to sexual contact. The majority of new AIDS cases are among African Americans; people of color account for more than two thirds of all new cases.
  • GMHC consolidates its array of programs in a new six-story headquarters on West 20th Street.
  • The first World AIDS Day is held on December 1 to create global AIDS awareness.
  • Surgeon General Koop mails 107 million copies of “Understanding AIDS” to every American household.
  • A reversal in Department of Justice policy: AIDS/HIV patients can no longer be discriminated against.
  • The film of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy is released, starring Fierstein.


  • GMHC leads a successful effort to draft and pass New York State’s AIDS-Related Information Bill, ensuring confidentiality.
  • GMHC and other AIDS organizations announce boycott of the 1990 Internal Conferences on AIDS to protest U.S. immigration policies.
  • First guidelines for the prevention of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), an AIDS-related opportunistic infection and major cause of morbidity and mortality for people with HIV are issued by U.S. CDC.
  • After much public protest by AIDS activists, the price of AZT is lowered by 20%.
  • The NAMES project Memorial Quilt returns to Washington D.C. The number of panels has grown to 10,848.


  • Ryan White dies at the age of 18.
  • The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act passes, authorizing $881 million in emergency relief to 16 cities hardest hit by the epidemic. Congress only appropriates $350 million.
  • NYC Major David Dinkins, Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY) and GMHC Executive Director Tim Sweeney testify before Congress.
  • President George Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to project people with disabilities, including people with HIV infection, from discrimination.
  • American AIDS deaths pass the 100,000 mark – nearly twice the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.
  • Norman René’s Longtime Companion, the first major studio release dealing with AIDS, opens.


  • After months of rancorous debate, the NYC Board of Education approves HIV/AIDS initiative, which includes condoms availability in high schools.
  • Thousands attend GMHC’s “Gathering of Remembrance and Renewal,” the first GMHC event commemorating ten years of AIDS.
  • S. CDC recommends restrictions on the practice of HIV-positive health care workers and Congress enacts law requiring states to take similar action.
  • NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson announces that he is HIV-positive and retires from Basketball.


  • In response to mounting activism and protest the FDA starts “accelerated approval” to get promising drugs to PWAs faster.
  • After five years of litigation led by GMHC, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and others, a federal court strikes down “offensiveness” restrictions on AIDS education materials proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms.
  • The first reports of successful combination drug treatments for AIDS are published.
  • FDA licenses first rapid HIV test; which provides results in as little as ten minutes.
  • AIDS becomes number one cause of death for U.S. men ages 25 to 44.


  • The CDC expands the definition of AIDS to include four new conditions, some specific to women. New AIDS diagnoses are expected to increase by as much as 100% as a result of the change.
  • The CDC, NIH, and FDA declare in a joint statement that condoms are “highly effective” for prevention of HIV infection.
  • Over 13,800 people – more than a quarter of all New York City residents diagnosed with AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic – have been clients of GMHC.
  • President Clinton establishes White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP).
  • First annual “AIDSWatch” – hundreds of community members from across the U.S. converge in Washington DC to lobby Congress for increased AIDS funding.


  • The CDC reports that heterosexually acquired cases of AIDS rose 130% from 1992 to 1993, while cases among gay men rose 87%.
  • GMHC participates in the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots with the slogan, ”Fight to Live, Fight to Love, Fight AIDS”.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 19.5 million people worldwide have become HIV-infected since the beginning of the epidemic.
  • S. Public Health Service recommends use of AZT by pregnant women to reduce perinatal transmission of HIV, based on “076” study showing up to 70% reduction in transmission.
  • S. FDA approves an oral HIV test, the first non-blood based antibody test for HIV.


  • The CDC announces that AIDS has become the leading cause of death for Americans aged 25 to 44. The biggest increase is reported among men of color who have sex with men.
  • The FDA approves Saquinavir, the first in a new class of drugs called protease inhibitors, in a record 97 days.
  • President Clinton establishes the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
  • First National HIV Testing Day created by the National Association of People with AIDS.


  • The FDA approves the sale of the first home HIV test kit.
  • The FDA approves an HIV viral load test, which measures HIV levels in the blood and is the most effective way to track The progression of HIV throughout the body and evaluate the success of antiretroviral combination drug therapy.
  • Cover stories hailing AIDS breakthroughs and the “end” of the epidemic appear in The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek.
  • The number of new AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S. declines for the first time in history of epidemic, though experience varies by sex, race and ethnicity.


  • The first human trials of an AIDS vaccine begin with 5,000 volunteers from across the nation.
  • GMHC services are consolidated in the Tisch Building on West 24 Street, and GMHC’s David Geffen Center for HIV Prevention and Education begins providing onsite HIV testing and counseling services.
  • AIDS is now New York City’s leading cause of death for women ages 25 to 44.
  • S. Congress enacts FDA Modernization Act of 1997, codifying accelerated approval process, and allowing dissemination of information about off-label uses of drugs.
  • President Clinton announces goal of finding an effective vaccine in 10 years.


  • GMHC launces the “Beyond 200 Sexual Health Survey” in New York City, the largest survey of gay and bisexual men since the beginning of the epidemic.
  • New York State HIV Reporting and Partner Notification Act signed into law, requiring that cases of HIV (not just AIDS) be reported to the Department of Health and that the names of contacts be requested and notification attempted.
  • GMHC study published in Newsday reports an estimated 69,000 people in New York State have HIV but remain unaware of it.
  • African Americans account for 49% of AIDS deaths. Mortality for African Americans is almost ten times that of whites and three times that of Hispanics.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce that AIDS deaths nationwide dropped 47% from 1996 to 1997.
  • First large scale human trials (Phase III) for an HIV vaccine begins.


  • The Young Men’s Survey (YMS), the first large-scale study of HIV infection among young gay men in New York City, finds that large numbers have become infected with the virus in the last two years, with the levels of infection among young black men exceeding those among white and Hispanic man.
  • President Clinton announces “Leadership and Investment in Fighting an Epidemic” (LIFE) Initiative to address the global epidemic; leads to increased funding.


  • New York State passes legislation decriminalizing the sale and possession of syringes without prescription.
  • The GMHC AIDS Hotline becomes accessible via email.
  • S. and U.N. declare AIDS national security threat.
  • UNAIDS, WHO, and other groups strike deals with major pharmaceutical companies to provide reduced-cost treatment in the developing world.
  • HIV drug resistance testing becomes the standard-of-care to help people living with HIV make better treatment decisions.
  • FDA approves two new combination HIV pills – Kaletra and Trizivir. This brings the total to 14 single-drug HIV pills and three combination pills.


  • A new study shows that 14% of individuals newly infected with HIV in the U.S. already exhibit resistance to at least one antiviral drug.
  • The UN adopts a global blueprint for action on HIV/AIDS and Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls for the creation of a 7 to 10 billion dollar global fund to combat AIDS in the developing world.
  • In response to a dramatic increase in syphilis cases in NYC, GMHC begins on-site syphilis testing in partnership with the NYC Department of Health.
  • United Nations General Assembly convenes first ever special session on HIV/AIDS,”UNGASS”.
  • First Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is commemorated in the U.S.
  • June 5 marks 20 years since first AIDS case reported


  • The Bush Administration removes Condom Fact Sheets from the “Programs that Work” section of the HHS website. After much protest, revised Fact Sheets that downplay the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are reposted.
  • The FDA approves a new rapid HIV testing device that is easy to use, produces reliable results in 20 minutes, and eliminates the current week-long waiting periods for test results.
  • GMHC and other AIDS activists disrupt HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson’s speech at the Fourteenth International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, to protest the Bush administration’s under-funding of domestic and global AIDS programs.
  • UNAIDS reports that women make up half of all adults living with HIV worldwide.
  • HIV is found to be the leading cause of death worldwide among those aged 15 to 59.


  • President George W. Bush announces up to $15 billion in funding over the next five years for Global AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria treatment and prevention for 12 African and two Caribbean countries.
  • Activists express deep reservations about a provision that gives abstinence programs a third of USAID’s prevention funding.
  • First National Latino AIDS Awareness Day is commemorated in the U.S.
  • FDA approves four new HIV drugs – Emtriva, Fuzeon, Lexiva, and Reyataz. Fuzeon is the first HIV fusion inhibitor; it is taken by injection. This brings the total to 19.


  • The FDA approved the use of oral fluid samples with a rapid HIV diagnostic test kit that provides screening results with over 99% accuracy in as little as 20 minutes.
  • GMHC joins forces with AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) to establish the Institute for Gay Men’s Health, a national HIV prevention effort to develop and promote a nationwide health and wellness agenda for men who have sex with men.
  • GMHC launches a new Women’s Institute to concentrate its efforts and explore new approaches to HIV prevention, particularly for women of color, who are at the center of the epidemic.
  • Dancers fill the Javits Center to raise money at Move Against AIDS: Return of the Dance-a-thon.
  • First saliva-based rapid HIV test approved.
  • FDA approves two new combination HIV pills – Epzicom and Truvada. This brings the total to 19 individual HIV drugs and five combination pills.


  • GMHC joins national HIV Stops With Me social marketing campaign, which aims to reduce the stigma associated with HIV and to acknowledge the powerful personal role that people who are positive have taken in ending the epidemic.
  • AIDS Walk New York, the world’s largest private AIDS fundraising event marks its 20th year and raises a record $5.8 million.
  • CDC releases post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) guidelines for possible sexual exposure to HIV.
  • FDA approves one new HIV drug – Aptivus. This brings the total to 20 individual HIV drugs and five combination pills.


  • June 5 marks a quarter century since first AIDS case reported.
  • The Women’s Institute is awarded a grant from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign for women of color in select neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
  • The CDC reports that African Americans account for more than half of new HIV infections in the U.S.
  • The CDC announces that mother-to-child HIV transmission in the U.S. has declined to less than 2% – a drop from about 27% in the years before HIV drugs were used to prevent such transmission.
  • S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases revised HIV testing recommendations for health-care settings, recommending routine HIV screening for all adults aged 13-64, and yearly screening for those at high risk.


  • President Bush calls on Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR at $30 billion over 5 years.
  • GMHC celebrates its 25th year.
  • GMHC works with city health officials to introduce the NYC Condom campaign.
  • GMHC Action Center participants travel to Washington, Albany and City Hall to speak directly with elected representatives as constituents and advocates.
  • New UNAIDS statistics, based on new surveillance methods, estimate that 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS.


  • S. Congress reauthorizes PEPFAR for an additional 5 years at up to $48 billion.
  • A record-setting $7.35 million is raised by participants at AIDS Walk New York.
  • First Annual National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in the United States.
  • FDA approves one new HIV drug – Intelence. This brings the total to 22 individual HIV drugs and six combination pills.


  • President Obama launches the Global Health Initiative (GHI), a six-year effort to develop a comprehensive approach to addressing global health in low and middle/income countries, with PEPFAR as a core component.
  • GMHC received the first federal appropriation in its history ($300,000) to address the critical issues of crystal methamphetamine use and its impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City.
  • President Barack Obama calls for the U.S. to develop its first National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
  • The U.S. Congress eliminates long-standing ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs.


  • Removal of U.S. HIV travel and immigration ban officially begins.
  • GMHC expands its mobile and on-site testing programs ensuring greater service in higher-risk neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.
  • The White House releases the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy to coordinates the efforts of government and nonprofit agencies, as well as faith-based organizations, labor unions and businesses, to ensure care for citizens universally.
  • The Keith Haring Foundation becomes the sponsor of GMHC’s newly renamed Keith Haring Food Pantry Program ensuring meals to thousands of people living with HIV.
  • Congress passes and President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, establishing a national health care plan aimed at reforming the U.S. health care system.
  • Results from the iPrEX study indicate that pill-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the use of daily antiretroviral drugs by uninfected persons – can reduce the risk of HIV infection.


  • June 5 marks 30 years since the first AIDS case reported.
  • On April 19, GMHC relocates to 446 West 33rd Street.
  • President Obama authorized $109 million in additional funding for HIV care to implement the HIV/AIDS strategy with additional funds set aside for HIV/AIDS research.
  • A landmark research study shows that putting healthy people living with HIV on antiretrovirals can limit their transmission of the virus by 96%. This strategy is called “treatment as prevention”.
  • National Institutes of Health announce plans to launch their own cure initiatives.


  • GMHC marks its 30th year.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issues new HIV treatment guidelines that, for the first time, recommend treatment for all HIV-infected adults and adolescents, regardless of CD4 count or viral load.
  • FDA approves one new combination pill – Stribild. Stribild is the third approved one-pill-a-day HIV regimen. This brings the total to 23 individual HIV drugs and eight combination pills.
  • FDA also approves the use of the HIV combination pill Truvada to prevent sexual transmission of HIV.
  • Overall, new HIV infections worldwide declined 33% between 2001 and 2012.


  • 30th Anniversary of the AIDS Institute and the AIDS Advisory Council.
  • S. Congress passes and President Obama signs the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, which will allow persons living with HIV to receive organs from other infected donors. The HOPE Act has the potential to save the lives of about 1,000 HIV-infected patients with liver and kidney failure annually.
  • FDA approves one new HIV drug – Tivicay. This brings the total to 24 individual HIV drugs and eight combination pills.
  • Playwright, author and activist Larry Kramer receives the Isabelle Stevenson Award, a non-competitive Tony award given to individuals for their contribution on behalf of humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations.


  • Major provisions of the Affordable Care Act designed to protect consumers which include barring discrimination against customers with pre-existing conditions, such as HIV, go into effect.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces a three-point plan to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York by 2020. His goal is to reduce new cases of HIV from 3,000 to 750 annually.
  • Douglas Brooks is appointed as the new Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. He is the first African American and the first HIV-positive person to hold the position.
  • The Pew Charitable Trust reports that southern states are now the epicenter of HIV/AIDS in the U.S.


  • GMHC CEO Kelsey Louie is named to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which then develops the final Blueprint to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announces that more than 90% of new HIV infections in the U.S. could be prevented by diagnosing people living with HIV and linking them to care.
  • White House launches the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces it will lift its 30-year-old ban on all blood donations by men who have sex with men and institute a policy that allows them to donate blood if they have not had sexual contact with another man in the previous 12 months.
  • S. Congress lifts restrictions, under certain circumstances, for states and localities on the use of federal funds for syringe services in response to outbreaks of HIV related to injection drugs.


  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and partners will launch a large HIV vaccine trial in South Africa in November 2016, pending regulatory approval. This represents the first time since 2009 that the scientific community has embarked on an HIV vaccine clinical trial of this size.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is seeking comment on deferral policies for blood donation policies based on risk factors. Currently, the FDA requires gay and bisexual men to abstain from sex with other men for one year before donating blood. That policy, implemented last year, replaces the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men. GMHC has been fighting the FDA blood ban since 2006.

Aging Well is a program of Cascade AIDS Project (CAP). We support and empower all people living with or affected by HIV, reduce stigma, and provide the LGBTQ+ community and beyond with compassionate healthcare. Visit us at capnw.org.

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