According to The AIDS Project: A History, the first inkling that AIDS had made its way to Maine came in 1995 in a blurb in what was then a small local gay and lesbian newspaper, Our Paper:
“A member of our community — a man with whom we’ve talked, worked, socialized and played recently learned he has AIDS. Some of us knew him well, some of us are acquaintances; some of us don’t know him at all. All of us are affected. All of us will be affected. All of us from Kittery to Fort Kent will find ourselves grappling with this painful and cruel reality — that a man from our community has AIDS. We, as a community, and as individuals, will never be the same. How we changes collectively and personally depends on each and every one of us.”
The report was an accurate harbinger of things to come, and, although up to that point most AIDS diagnoses were made in large cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami, Portland would eventually be hit hard. In fact, it already had been — records eventually showed that gay men had been dying in the state since 1982 from a mysterious illness.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS, and although not a hotbed of infections, Maine and Portland were some of the first communities in the country to begin to tackle the virus, thanks in part to people like Frannie Peabody, who was instrumental in opening one of the first AIDS service organizations in the country, The AIDS Project, which this year marks 20 years of operation.
As of this week, more than 1060 people have been diagnosed with AIDS in Maine, and more than 537 people have died, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The DHHS reported last year that each year since 1985 there have been more new AIDS diagnoses than deaths, indicating that the overall number of people living with AIDS has continued to increase over time.
So, the anniversary, although notable, is a dubious one. Here’s to hoping we’ll stop at silver and never see gold.