When HIV/AIDS first appeared in the 1980s, it was a dreaded disease that had no cure. The epidemic brought an enormous amount of fear, suffering, and isolation for those who were infected. Today, we can suppress the viral load with drugs and people can expect to live a normal life expectancy.
Prepare for this discussion by reading the two sites at the AVERTing HIV and AIDS website, reading the play by Kushner, viewing the scene from Angels in America, and by watching the documentary “Positive Youth.” This activity aligns with module outcomes 3 and 4.
- Kushner’s play takes place during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when it was designated a gay man’s disease in a culture that was greatly homophobic. Angels in America is Kushner’s artistic response to the epidemic and to the political climate when the government was not responding well to the crisis. This was also a time when antiretroviral drugs were available for the chosen few. Choose one of the following characters and describe his or her particular torment during this time: Joseph Porter Pitt, Harper Amaty Pitt, Louis Ironson, or Prior Walter.
- Roy M. Cohn is a loathsome character who was an anti-Semitic Jew and a homophobic homosexual, among other things. How does Cohn respond to hearing his diagnosis from his doctor, Henry? How do you interpret his threats, given the seriousness of his diagnosis?
- In the documentary “Positive Youth,” filmed in 2012, we follow four young people dealing with an HIV positive status. How have things changed for HIV positive gay men since Kushner’s play and how have things stayed the same? Please describe some of the choices that they have made after their diagnosis that you find to be positive and inspiring.