A veteran journalist sees echoes of the AIDS epidemic in the current monkeypox emergency

Decades before monkeypox, another epidemic primarily affected gay men: HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Journalist Hank Plante was at ground zero of the epidemic: San Francisco.

“It sounds weird, but it’s kind of a gift to me to be an openly gay man and a journalist working in San Francisco, and so I got to tell the story from my own perspective and see that it was affecting my friends,” Plante said. “It was always more than a story to me, and I wanted to get it right.”

And getting it right wasn’t easy, especially when many, including government officials, didn’t think it was an important issue.

“The subject came up at a press conference at the White House when Reagan was president, and in the press room the press secretary was asked about this new disease, AIDS. And the room went laughed,” Plante said.

A clip of this was unearthed from the White House press archives by filmmaker Scott Calonico, who added it to his short ‘When AIDS Was Funny’, about the indifference shown by the administration towards the epidemic.

At the time, Plante said there was little to no information about AIDS. So her station, KPIX, now known as CBS News Bay Area, is truly committed to covering her.

“So we were on the air every night telling people how not to get the disease, what was new with the treatment, if any of the drugs worked. And, remember, it was at a back when the Reagan administration barely talked about it,” Plante said.

Yet, he said, the lack of information led to fear and abuse from gay communities who themselves lived in fear. “People were being kicked out of their apartments,” Plante said. “People were being fired. There was no legal protection at the time. So it was really awful. It was terrible.”

Thousands of Americans had died of AIDS by the time President Ronald Reagan first uttered the word “AIDS” in 1985, Plante said.

Although there have been no deaths so far in the United States from monkeypox, Plante said, “there are a lot of parallels with the onset of AIDS – there were ‘inaction on the part of the government’.

Plante said the current monkeypox emergency gives him flashbacks to those early days of covering AIDS. “There were a lot of gay men who were scapegoated and blamed for AIDS back then, and you can bet there are gay men who are blamed for it today,” he said. he declared. “There’s a lot of fear in the gay community that it’s going to get worse.”

He urged health and government officials to come forward and once and for all explain exactly how monkeypox is transmitted and do all they can to get people vaccinated to prevent the spread of the virus. monkey pox.

“There’s a lot of conflicting information out there,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot more cases. It’s preventable. Where’s the vaccine? Where can people get vaccinated? Spread the word. Be transparent. Do your job.”

Plante won every award imaginable for his AIDS coverage, including a Peabody, but his goal at the time was to save lives. He also believes that journalists have the opportunity to have a positive impact, but must overcome fear. “I think there’s some fear, especially among straight journalists, that they don’t want to offend the gay community by saying you get it from gay sex,” he said. “It’s not a sexually transmitted disease, but it’s close contact [that spreads the virus]. And I think journalists need to come clean about it and not worry about the backlash.”

Plante said he learned a lot covering AIDS – a lot about himself. “Once you kill your dragons in life, it makes you stronger,” he said. “And so that was my big fear when I was growing up, like a lot of gay kids, and once I got out I started to relax and enjoy life.”

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