Marge Ballack – HIV/AIDS

“Some of our friends needed help.”

[During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, gay men] were scared to death. They were very cautious of who they dated. I don’t know about the condom use or protection, but it seems to me at that time they formed little clicks. Little clicks of maybe eight or ten guys, who knew each other, were friendly, [and] who would date one another exclusively. If there was going to be a group of people they dated, that was going to be [their] group.

[At Signatures bar and restaurant] they actually did an AIDS test for anyone who wanted to participate. It was a free AIDS test. That affected a lot of good friends of ours, after the testing. Our friends went down [there], who were a couple. One of them tested positive and the other tested negative. That was horrible.

[AIDS meant that we had to] start taking care of our own, because other people weren’t doing it. Now, in fairness, about the same time there were doctors in various hospitals, Deaconess in particular . . . There was a movement within the hospital community where they were taking care of AIDS patients, getting them the medical care they needed. I think [AIDS] rallied the medical community, and it rallied the gay and lesbian community. We had to take care of our own.

There were guys that were so sick that people would check on them twice a day: bring them meals and check on them. No medication, because they were so weak and so sick that they were just on the downhill slide. There were organizations within our community [caring for AIDS patients. For example,] they’d hand out condoms to various bars. That started in the gay community; now they are doing it in the straight community as well. [The message was,] “If you’re going to have sex, have safe sex.” I don’t think it was city-wide or a governmental thing at that time. It just was, we were taking care of ourselves and organizing within ourselves. I don’t think there was a name for [the organizations doing this]. I just know that some of our friends helped, and some of our friends needed help.

[There were also fundraisers for AIDS treatment.] All of us would go—women, men—all of us would go. Some of our very dearest, dearest friends are gay men. Being women, and being nurturing as much as gay men are, we rallied around them and helped support them.


Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson in December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture.