Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has revealed he spent time in gay bathhouses and bars during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
In an interview last week with Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air, Fauci talked about how a big part of his job has been studying HIV, and during the ’80s that led him to visit bathhouses and gay bars in San Francisco and New York.
“This was the very, very early years of the outbreak. We were seeing these large numbers of mostly gay men who were formerly otherwise well, who were being devastated by this terrible, mysterious disease,” he told Gross. “And it was so concentrated in the gay community thatI really wanted to get a feel for what was going on there that would lead to this explosion of a sexually transmitted disease.”
So that’s exactly what he did. “I went to the Castro District. I went down to Greenwich Village, and I went into bathhouses to essentially see what was going on,” he said.
“The epidemiologist in me went, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is a perfect setup for an explosion of a sexually transmitted disease.’ And the same thing going to the gay bars and seeing what was going on, and it gave me a great insight into the explosiveness of the outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease,” Fauci continued.
He noted that then-President Ronald Reagan and his religious right supporters made HIV and AIDS research a lot harder, but he doesn’t think Reagan personally hated gay people. “I believe, because of a large part of his constituency was that way, what he did not do is he did not use the bully pulpit of the presidency to gain support and attention to what was going on right in front of everyone’s eyes,” Fauci said.
Gross asked how Fauci felt about AIDS activists targeting him in the ’80s for not doing more to combat the epidemic. Fauci said he understood and that it changed him forever. “I’ll never forget that,” he said of Larry Kramer’s op-ed that called him a “murderer.” “He wanted to gain my attention, and he certainly did gain my attention.”