Timeline of Key Early Events in HIV

This timeline is part of the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network's
Teaching Resources for BiPOC Religion and AIDS Activism.

Download a printable pdf of this timeline.

June 5, 1981 - The Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) declares that five previously healthy gay men contracted Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) at three Los Angeles area hospitals. This is considered the official start of the epidemic in the United States.

July 3, 1981 - The CDC releases another report in the MMWR with information about Kaposi’s Sarcoma and PCP among 26 gay men.

July 3, 1981 - The New York Times published an article with the headline, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals”

September 15, 1981 - The National Cancer Institute and CDC coordinate the first conference to address the new epidemic in the United States.

December 10, 1981 - San Francisco nurse Bobbi Campbell became the first person to publicly announce his KS diagnosis. In addition to his announcement, he began writing a newspaper colum entitled, “Gay Cancer Journal”

January 4, 1982 - Gay Men’s Health Crisis is founded in New York City, the first community-based AIDS service organization in the United States.

May 11, 1982 - The New York Times published the first mention of GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency)

September 24, 1982 - CDC used the term “AIDS” Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) for the first time in the MMWR.

January 1, 1983 - Ward 86 became the first dedicated outpatient AIDS clinic. It opened at San Francisco General Hospital. The hospital became well-known for its “San Francisco Model of Care,” eventually its approach became appropriated as the global standard for care.

January 7, 1983 - The CDC’s MMWR reported the first cases of AIDS in women. May 18, 1983 - The U.S. Congress passed the first bill that included spending explicitly targeted for AIDS research and treatment. Congress allocated $12 million for agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

September 30, 1983 - After Joseph Sonnabend, A New York physician, is threatened with eviction for helping AIDS patients, the Lambda Legal group and the state’s Attorney General collaborate to file the first AIDS discrimination lawsuit.

November 22-25, 1983 - The World Health Organization holds its first meetings to gauge the status of HIV/AIDS globally.

April 23, 1984 - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler announced that Dr. Robert Galo discovered the cause of AIDS, a retrovirus called HTLV-III. October 9, 1984 - The New York Times published an article stating that new scientific evidence may indicate that AIDS is transmissible through saliva. This possibility would not be disproven for another two years.

October 10, 1984 - San Francisco public health officials ordered the closing of bathhouses.

March 2, 1985 - The U.S. Food Drug Administration authorized the first commercial blood test to detect HIV. The kit was called ELISA and following the authorization, blood banks began screening blood supplies for HIV.

August 27, 1985 - Ryan White, an Indiana teenager, contracted AIDS through contaminated blood products. He is denied entry to his middle school following his diagnosis generating national attention and protracted legal battles.

September 17, 1985 - President Ronald Reagan, for the first time, publicly mentions AIDS. October 2, 1985 - The U.S. Congress allocated nearly $190 million for AIDS research. This amount was $70 million more than the Reagan administration’s request. October 25, 1985 - The New York State Public Health Council encouraged the closing of gay bathhouses, clubs and bars.

December 13, 1985 - 20 month-old Dwight Burk became the first child of a hemophiliac to be born with AIDS.

December 19, 1985 - A Los Angeles Times poll claimed a slight majority of Americans favor quarantining persons with AIDS.

July 18, 1986 - A group of community leaders met with the U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop at The National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community in Washington, DC. October 24, 1986 - CDC reported that AIDS cases are disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx communities across the United States. Black and Latinx children, at this moment, comprised 90 percent of perinatally acquired AIDS cases.

March 12, 1987 - AIDS Activist Larry Kramer, after a fiery speech, is attributed with the founding of ACT UP in New York City.

March 19, 1987 - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first medication for AIDS, AZT (ziudovudine), an antiretroviral drug initially created to aid cancer patients. May 31, 1987 - President Ronald Reagan made his first public speech about AIDS. June 24, 1987 - President Reagan signed an Executive Order creating the first Presidential Commission on AIDS.

October 11, 1987 - For the first time, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed at the National Mall.

October 14, 1987 - With an overwhelming majority, the U.S. Senate adopted the Helms Amendment which required federally funded educational content on AIDS to underscore sexual abstinence and proscribed material which may encourage homosexuality or drug use.

November 1987 - Debra Fraser-Howe, director of teenage services at the Urban League New York, founded the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. November 4, 1988 - President Reagan signed into law the Health Omnibus Programs Extension (HOPE) Act. The legislation permitted the use of federal funds for AIDS-related services.

December 16, 1988 - Vocalist Sylvester James, Jr. dead from AIDS-related complications. James was an out Black gay entertainer well-known for his disco track “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” among many other dance tunes.

December 27, 1988 - Gay rights activist and writer Joseph Beam dead at 33 from an AIDS related illness. Beam was known for his anthology In the Life, which was the first collection of writings of Black gay men about their personal and communal experiences with HIV/AIDS.

1989 - The number of AIDS cases in the United States reaches 100,000. September 10, 1989 - Nearly a hundred Black clergy, including Christian ministers, Muslim imams, Native American shamans, Yoruba priests, and Ethiopian Hebrew rabbis, gathered to walk around Harlem hospital and attend to the sick.

1991 - The National Minority Council along with the National Association of People with AIDS and the National Interfaith Network coordinated the National Skills Building Conference, which eventually shall become the United States Conference on AIDS. December 18, 1993 - Following much protest and backlash, the CDC expanded the case definition of AIDS. Now, the definition included persons with CD4 counts below 200 to have AIDS. In addition, it added persons with pulmonary tuberculosis, recurrent pneumonia and invasive cervical cancer, which primarily affected women and drug users, to the list of clinical indicators of AIDS.