Gene Otto – HIV/AIDS

“You laid it out, to make sure your friends survived.”

[AIDS] got people together for a lot of reasons—fundraising, support groups. If nothing else, educating your own doctor. You had to take responsibility as a gay person to tell your doctor, “Hey, I’m sexually active. This is happening.” Also, if you knew someone had AIDS and they were going home with somebody from the bar, it was sort of like, head them off at the door and say, “You understand: they’re gay, sex, and positive, and . . .” You laid it out, to make sure your friends survived. Or tried to.

At a time of AIDS, we were really heavily pushing, pushing, pushing education. At one point, Gordon Cheney—who was a county health employee—through him and through some other sleight of hands, [Spokane] had one of the better support systems on the West Coast. We had in place people, we had testing that was [anonymous]. You get a number and you gave a fake name. No questions asked. We could promote that through our Dorian Group. “Go here if you need this.” There was this wonderful behind the scenes world that we could create and keep going, because we had people in the county health department who—through AIDS education or another fund or a health thing—they could get us speakers. They could get us money. They could get us these things. That’s where Dorian was very, very effective. Hep[atitis] C was another really big one. Very controversial. If you got the vaccine and you had to pay for it . . . Well, it was free. Why were we paying some doctor twenty bucks to get a shot that’s free? Again, you’re educating people, who educated [more] people.


Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 27 November 2012.