Ted Clark – HIV/AIDS

“We don’t know what the hell it is.”

The whole AIDS epidemic hit communities in different ways, had different impacts, but Spokane was certainly not spared, I guess, of any of the emotion and the drama.

[We] first became aware of “something,” you know, was going on [when an] M. D. friend [on the East Coast] said, “We don’t know what the hell it is, but we know it’s major and serious.” Those were the very first things that we heard about. Then, back in Spokane, we had friends in San Francisco. You heard more about it down there. Then finally there was the first AIDS death in Spokane, who was actually a fellow from Sandpoint [Idaho] that had been living in San Francisco. [He] came home to die basically.

Somebody at my job [once] made a rude joke about [HIV/AIDS], which I thought was totally inappropriate. There were two other faculty members that were highly incensed by it. As [the person who made the comment] left the room, I called him on it. He went directly to the principal to complain about my comment. The principal sat him down and said, “You need to understand a few things here.” [Laughs.] It was interesting, because he showed up later in the classroom to apologize to me. I said, “I don’t need an apology; you owe these other women an apology. The only reason I said anything was because they were too angry to say something.” So it’s an awareness thing. This was late ‘80s, long enough [into the AIDS epidemic] for him to know better.

[One of our friends who died of AIDS] was divorced, had three children, very much closeted, lived in northern Idaho, rural setting, postmaster, known individual. Came to Spokane to get out of his community, so he could be gay over here. Never really accepted himself as a quality person, was the sad part. Because of that, sexual experiences tended to be less than up and healthy, and forthcoming. [We] don’t know the source of contraction, but . . . [He] became ill. We didn’t know for a long time that it was AIDS. As the illness progressed, we became curious. You start going, “Hmmm.” But he denied it. Denied it. Denied it. Didn’t want the kids to know, didn’t want anybody to know.

He was on some experimental drugs and apparently—because, of course, we weren’t really getting good details from him—one of the drugs seemed to work pretty well. He had like a 60-day trial period of it. He really started to improve. Then, when they couldn’t get any more, he went over the edge and straight downhill. It was an experimental drug and they apparently didn’t have any more or something. Or it hadn’t been approved for further use. I don’t know. Never knew the details on it.

He went into the hospital at one point. [We] went up to the room to see him. There was a big posted note on the outside door “Blood-Borne Pathogen.” I looked at it and went, “Yep. That’s what I thought.” He was not aware [of the sign]. Of course, everybody that was coming in and out saw it. He didn’t know it. Friends, kids, knew. It took him until the last couple of weeks before he died to finally admit that’s what was going on. In his case: a lot of shame, hiding who he was, trying not to embarrass the kids. The sad part is that he never knew how much the kids really cared about him. Every year they march in the Portland AIDS Memorial Walk in his honor and raise money. And his son is gay.

Gene and I at one point tallied—this is nationwide through a whole lot of connections—we’d probably have upwards of 80 to 90 people that we have known die [of AIDS]. In about a 10- or 12-year period. We still have several friends who are living with AIDS. Meds are better and life patterns are longer, but . . . [We have] probably five [friends] right now that are long-term, 20 years plus, AIDS people.

[HIV/AIDS] encouraged gay people to let your doctors know that you were gay, because they would be sensitive to other issues in your life. During that period of time, we were fortunate in that we knew a gay physician in town. While he wasn’t our primary doctor, he knew other doctors, and referred people that would be gay sensitive and open to dealing with gay people. He confirmed that the person we were using at that time for primary physician was good. And he was. So, we did identify to him, so that he would know that. We never experienced any negatives or any issues in health care. I don’t know locally of any, but I do know that there were issues regionally where people were denied services. Seattle, San Francisco. You know, people just weren’t up to dealing with it, and they said, “You need to find another doctor.”


Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 30 November 2012 and on 27 February 2014.