What it's like when the worst years of your life get rolled up into an Oscar-nominated documentary
"Remember when they burnt those people's house down?" Spencer Cox asks.
We are at a reunion dinner for about half a dozen people at a restaurant on the edge of Soho. I haven't seen him since the mid-1990s. He looks unwell. It's late September, 2012. On Nov. 30 we're on a panel together for World AIDS Day at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center. By Dec. 18 he is dead.
I don't remember, so I look it up when I get back to D.C. In 1987, in Arcadia, Florida, Clifford and Louise Ray's house mysteriously burned to the ground after a court ordered the local schools had to admit their HIV-positive hemopheliac sons, despite community objections. Other families had already been pulling their kids out of the school, which also faced multiple phoned-in bomb threats. The family decided their only option was to give up and leave town.
This was right around the same time homophobia in America peaked, according to Gallup polling of the 1986-87 period. It was Reagan's second term, there were no AIDS treatments (AZT wasn't approved until March 1987), the Supreme Court had recently upheld state laws making gay sex a crime in the June 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick ruling, and 57 percent of those surveyed answered yes when asked if gay and lesbian relations should be illegal. Several states were actively considering quarantine measures for people with AIDS, which is to say, tearing some of their most marginalized and frightened citizens away from the only people who loved them and locking them up with strangers who considered them freaks and pariahs, until they died.