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Dr. Anthony Fauci Studied HIV/AIDS at Gay Bathhouses in 1980s San Francisco, New York

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 9, 2021

In a new interview with NPR, Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed how he conducted research in gay bathhouses and bars at the 1980s apex of the AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Fauci explained to Terry Gross, of NPR's Fresh Air, "This was the very, very early years of the outbreak. We were seeing these large numbers of mostly gay men who were formerly otherwise well, who were being devastated by this terrible, mysterious disease. And it was so concentrated in the gay community that I really wanted to get a feel for what was going on there that would lead to this explosion of a sexually transmitted disease."

His work studying HIV led him to bathhouses in San Francisco and the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. Dr. Fauci explained, "The epidemiologist in me went, 'Oh, my goodness, this is a perfect setup for an explosion of a sexually transmitted disease.' And the same thing going to the gay bars and seeing what was going on, and it gave me a great insight into the explosiveness of the outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease."

Dr. Fauci also explained that he doesn't believe then-President Ronald Reagan — who didn't refer to the disease specifically as AIDS until 1985, four years into its devastating impact — truly hated gay and lesbian people. Rather, Dr. Fauci says, Reagan was more concerned with appealing to his religious conservative constituency, who believed HIV/AIDS was divine punishment for homosexuality and chose to ignore the science that proved the disease could be contracted and transmitted through heterosexual sex, intravenous drug use and sharing needles, and through blood transfusions. At the urging of C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General in the Reagan administration — who was prevented from speaking about the disease in its first four years — President Reagan finally allowed dissemination of information on HIV/AIDS to the general public in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Dr. Fauci also recalled being targeted by AIDS activists, specifically mentioning an op-ed penned by the legendary Larry Kramer calling the doctor a "murderer." Dr. Fauci appears to understand the anger of the gay community at having been ignored and left to die by the Reagan administration, saying of Kramer's op-ed, "I'll never forget that. He wanted to gain my attention, and he certainly did gain my attention."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.