Chicago, IL —
It was 20 years ago today that Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jr., stunned the sports and heterosexual worlds with his announcement that he was HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) positive. At that time, the disease had been thought to be confined to the gay and drug using community.
At the time of the revelation, Johnson was a world known star professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, having previously played college hoops for Michigan State University. Fear of the unknown was rampant and it forced Johnson into immediate retirement as it was not clear what could cause transmission of the disease and other players and teams were concerned for their own physical welfare.
In 1991, the common thought was that a HIV positive testing was a death sentence. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was the second leading cause of death among men ages 25-44.
20 years later, Johnson is a healthy and robust 52 years of age who has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS research and funding. By going public, he helped make the world aware that HIV/AIDS was a heterosexual disease also. His unselfish and bold statement to the world changed the perception of HIV showing that it was no longer just a gay white man's ailment.
"Few people of Magic Johnson's stature have the guts and courage to admit they are HIV-positive and put their status in the spotlight; the impact of Magic's heroic admission was a much needed awakening for most people and a decisive exhibition that HIV is not a gay disease", offered Daniel Berger, MD of Northstar Healthcare
and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago to ChicagoPride.com.
"As a physician, his impact on helping to get individuals from the African American community to acknowledge the need and importance of testing and beginning treatment for HIV positive individuals was ground breaking. His actions have reduced prejudice and ostracism of HIV-positive individuals. Magic Johnson should serve as an example to us all" Berger concluded.
Jim Ludwig, Roscoe's
owner and longtime AIDS survivor and mentor to many afflicted and impacted said to ChicagoPride.com today: "When Magic announced his HIV status it rocked the sports world and opened millions of eyes to the impact of the disease. His celebrity shook up a previously unenlightened segment of our society in profound ways and helped educate huge numbers of previously ignorant citizens to the many issues HIV affected people encounter daily."
Today, due to the courage of people like Magic Johnson, HIV+ individuals are able to work and participate in most areas of society. Public education and awareness of the disease, how it is transmitted and treatments have advanced greatly over the past two decades. Organizations such as the Aids Legal Council of Chicago (ALCC) and Test Positive Awareness Network (TPAN) have championed advocacy for the rights and protections of HIV/AIDS patients.
Ann Hilton Fisher, Executive Director of the ALCC issued the following statement to ChicagoPride.com: "Magic Johnson has been an important figure in reducing the stigma surrounding HIV. His face on posters reminds people every day that people with HIV can be admired and respected, rather than feared or ignored."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 1 million living persons in the U.S. are HIV infected and that over 500,000 have died from AIDS.