There are crucial differences between the two viruses. But for the thousands of people who lived through the height of the AIDS epidemic, Covid-19 has brought back memories —and anger at government incompetenceby Katharine Swindells / May 21, 2020 / Leave a comment
Colin Clews woke up one day in March with a cough and immediately started worrying that it was the coronavirus. It was a false alarm, but his fear triggered something awfully familiar. “You ask yourself—if I’ve got the virus where would I have got it from?” Clews said “How could it be? I’ve always been careful, how? That is exactly what it was like in the early days of Aids.”
In the 1980s and 90s, Clews was involved with LGBT groups across the UK, including Terrence Higgins Trust and Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. In 1983, when Aids was just starting to be talked about in the UK, he ran Gay East Midlands, an LGBT magazine in Nottingham.
These days Clews is a 67-year-old retiree living with his husband in Cambridge, gardening and running his blog, gayinthe80s.com. He’s had friends, gay and straight, reach out to him during the Covid-19 pandemic, worried that it would trigger old memories. “One of the reasons I do the blog,” he says, is because he “had this enduring sense it’s all going to happen again.”
The Aids crisis and coronavirus pandemic are very different, and lazy comparisons risk downplaying the systematic discrimination against LGBT people that made the former so deadly. But for the thousands of people across the world who lived through the height of the Aids epidemic, it is impossible not to be remembering those years.
In early 1984, Sir Nick Partridge was 28 and living in Amsterdam, immersed in the local LGBT community. He’d been there for almost two years, but as reports of deaths coming out of the US grew increasingly dire, Partridge knew he had to go back to London. He returned to the city and began working on the helplines at Gay Switchboard, providing sexual health advice to worried men. In 1985 he became the first paid employee of Terrence Higgins Trust, now the largest HIV charity in Europe. He then served as the Trust’s chief executive for 28 years.
“For many of those of us who lived through the Aids epidemic, and lost lovers,…