San Francisco played key role in AIDS fight, officials say

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco played a critical role in fighting AIDS in America and around the world, leaders and activists said Saturday at a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the first reported cases of the illness.

Mayor London Breed and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke at the private ceremony in the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles were the first major U.S. cities hit by AIDS.

When the first AIDS cases were reported in 1981, “San Francisco was left on our own,” Breed said, “but we did what San Franciscans do best — we came together. … The system of care developed to help those struggling with HIV/AIDS was developed right here in San Francisco. The renowned research that continues to this very day was established right here in our great city.”

Pelosi, who hosted the first fundraiser for the now-famous AIDS Quilt, said the city’s compassionate, persistent and science-based approach to the crisis has helped San Francisco and the nation.

Pelosi said AIDS activism has also served as a model for other campaigns, including the fights against breast cancer, for marriage equality and against the military’s former “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gay people from openly serving, the Chronicle reported.

Joshua Gamson, a member of the National AIDS Memorial Grove board, noted the coincidence of attending an AIDS memorial while the nation is getting through the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s odd to be coming out of a pandemic and reflecting on another,” Gamson said. “This is my first time in the grove since the pandemic, and I feel like I’m coming out of a cocoon and into the memories of the AIDS pandemic.”

The ceremony finished with a line of people formed to start the hours-long ritual of reading the names of the people who have died from AIDS.

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