As a clinical research nurse in the 1980s, Bill Richardson saw first-hand the deadly end result of the AIDS virus.
“This was still a time when there was so much false information. Politicians were saying, ‘quarantine all the gays. Put ‘em up in concentration camps.’ It was also a time when families would disown you. Boyfriends, partners would kick their partners out. Insurance companies wouldn’t cover you,” Richardson said. “Ronald Reagan didn’t even utter the word AIDS until his last year in office.”
It was a time of information and misinformation and acceptance and disownment that Chuck Ross, chief museum curator of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, captures in the new exhibit at the Stonewall Gallery in Wilton Manors: Life Savers – AIDS Posters from the Wolfsonian.
On display from the Wolfsonian museum at Florida International University are 17 AIDS posters from Denmark, Brazil, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, France, Finland and Zimbabwe. The posters are taken from the Wilfsonian’s collection of 153 AIDS posters from 40 different countries and spans the years 1985 to 2010. There’s also a copy of a pamphlet, issued by former surgeon general C. Everett Koop in 1988, entitled “Understanding AIDS” on display.
Ross said the purpose is to illustrate how other countries tried to inform their citizens about the risks associated with unprotected sex and the danger of AIDS.
“I wanted two things: a diversity of countries, of information and I wanted to show how other countries, especially Denmark, Brazil and Australia, had more explicit posters,” Ross said.
“They weren’t afraid of actually talking about sex where as in America we seem to be afraid of talking about sex. Except for one poster, I restricted it to gay sex because that’s what our audience mainly is.”
Like Richardson, Ross remembers those early days of the disease well.
“I had friends who died. I lived through the very beginning when they didn’t know what it was. When they called it GRID [Gay Related Immune Deficiency].”
Ross said those he lost died before information on prevention was widely available but thinks others might still be alive if posters in the U.S. were as graphic as those in Europe and elsewhere.
“If America had had some of these more graphically explicit posters maybe more people would have realized what the dangers were.”
The Stonewall Gallery is located at 2157 Wilton Drive. The exhibit is on display now until Jan. 3. Visit Stonewall-Museum.org/Gallery for more information.