HIV/AIDS in the early days

Posted: February 19th, 2016 | Columns, Featured, Out of the Archives | No Comments

By Walter G. Meyer | Out of the Archives

On Jan. 25, the most recent installment of “Out at the Archives” focused on HIV/AIDS in San Diego County in the earliest days of infection and detection. Though the subject is grim, the capacity audience in the Diversionary Theatre found some humor amidst the tears.

The evening was moderator by Lambda Archives board member Steve Wrobeski and included Bridget Wilson, Terry Cunningham, and Cheryl Clark.

Steve and Terry are retired social workers who dealt with hundreds, maybe thousands of AIDS cases; Bridget was a nurse for Dr. Brad Truax, one of the first physicians in the area to treat patients with HIV/AIDS; and Cheryl Clark was the preeminent local journalist reporting on HIV, AIDS, and related issues at the time. Cheryl still writes today on AIDS and related science.


Women wait their turn at the San Diego Blood Bank in the early days of the AIDS crisis. (Courtesy Lambda Archives)

Local actor Marcus Newman lit a remembrance candle as he read the names and notes from an “AIDS notebook” found in our collections. Before the knowledgeable and impassioned panelists recalled the days of struggle, everyone joined in a speaking the names of loved ones lost.

Following the fascinating looks back, Nicole Murray Ramirez presented Cheryl Clark with the long over-due Cleve Jones HIV/AIDS Leadership Award to acknowledge her early accurate, insightful, and compassionate coverage.

“The panel was very interesting and helped a youngin’ like me get a better sense of how things were in early-1980s gay San Diego,” said Lambda Archives board member Jeff Graves. “I was horrified to hear about the gray ‘walking dead’ in Hillcrest at that time — how horrible! I’m amazed by the sense of community, solidarity, and how people managed to stick together even if it meant using dark humor.”

On other fronts, Lambda Archives is working with the San Diego Unified School District as a resource for school Gay/Straight Alliance groups and teachers who want to present LGBT history. We had the first of what are sure to be more meetings with the school district and their new emphasis in this area. And we have an exhibit currently hanging at the Archives of student artwork and historic anti-LGBT politics. (See Vol. 7, Issue 3 of this publication for details.)

We wish to thank the California Institute of Contemporary Arts (CICA) for its critical, invaluable encouragement and support for the last five years. The CICA recently presented us with a check for $25,000 towards our media digitization projects. We are so grateful to the CICA not only for initiating and sustaining these efforts, but for always making us feel that we are “doing the right thing.”

Another fascinating project currently underway in San Diego is based on Balboa Park and is called “Parkeology.” The segment focusing on the history of the “Fruit Loop” is what brings it to our doors. Of course, we referred Nicole Murray Ramirez and a few others to the artists creating this project and the resulting interviews were priceless.

Speaking of interviews, we continue our strong program to record (on video, as many interviews with community members as possible). Steve Wrobeleski is doing a tremendous job — especially now with the women who stepped forward to reach out a hand to those in need in those early days of HIV/AIDS. The women — lesbian, trans and straight — receiving long overdue credit, are 11 women from our local community: Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, Maria Galletta, Ruth Henricks, Nicolette Ibarra, Susan Jester, Laurie Leonard, Irene Milton, Carole Norman, Barbara Peabody, Miriam Thompson Slater, and Barbara Vick.


(top, l to r) Head Archivist Jen LaBarbera, President Maureen Steiner, archivist Ken Selnick — and handing them a check — CICA President Tom Reise. (Photo by Walter Meyer)

Be sure to join us in honoring these magnificent women with a gala brunch on March 19, at noon at the San Diego Women’s Club. We are thrilled to announce that our featured speaker will be former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Tickets are available through the link on our web site at or by calling us at 619-260-1522. For more information, see the cover story in this edition of Gay San Diego.

So you want a cheaper and less serious event? Come to the Center on Wednesday March 2 at 6 p.m. We are partnering with The Center for “Guys, Games & Grub,” the monthly board game event, which features John Lockhart’s popular Team Trivia. We’ll have some historical trivia for you and some very special prizes along with pizza, beer, wine and soda. Donations are requested at the door.

This month, we’d like to single out a few volunteers for their help at Lambda Archives: Wendy Sue Biegeleisen and Frank Stefano. Wendy Sue came in to share her deep experience in San Diego LGBT activism and donate some photos. She began helping us identify people and places in some of the similar photos in our collections. She had such a good time seeing old friends on the trip down memory lane that now she’s coming in every week to help label and process photos.

Frank Stefano is a past board member who keeps tabs on what’s going on – and what’s going wrong – at Lambda Archives. Frank is working overtime assisting with planning for our March brunch fundraiser and even pitched in to help with setup and breakdown for the recent Out at the Archives event.

There are so many ways you can help. While donations of “treasure” are always welcome, we would love to have your skills on any of our event committees, on-going tasks such as data entry, general cleaning, and collections processing. Whatever your passion, we can help you fill it here at the Archives.

—Walter G. Meyer is the author of the critically acclaimed gay novel “Rounding Third,” a regular contributor to Gay San Diego, and the manager of Lambda Archives. Reach him at

Lambda Archives of San Diego President Maureen Steiner contributed to this report.

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