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The Berkeley Remix Podcast: Season 3

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Listen to all of our podcast episodes on SoundCloud or search #TheBerkeleyRemix on iTunes.

Season Three: First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco

This podcast is about the politics of the first encounters with the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The six episodes draw from the thirty-five interviews that Sally Smith Hughes conducted in the 1990s. A historian of science at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, Sally interviewed doctors, nurses, researchers, public health officials and community-health practitioners to learn about the unique ways that people responded to the epidemic. Although these interviews cover a wide range of topics, including the isolation of the virus HIV and the search for treatments, the interviews we selected for this podcast are more focused on public health, community engagement, and nursing care. Most of the following podcast episodes are about the period from early 1981, when the first reports emerged of an unknown disease that was  killing gay men in San Francisco, to 1984 and the development of a new way of caring for people in a hospital setting.

Episode 0: Prologue - Interview with an Interviewer - Sally Smith Hughes:  This interview with UC Berkeley Oral History Center historian Sally Smith Hughes introduces her interviews with the physicians, public health officials, researchers, and nurses who faced the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the early 1980s. Paul and Sally also discuss the podcast "First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco," which is based on Sally's interviews from the 1990s.

Episode 1: San Francisco explores the landscape of gay culture in 1970s San Francisco. Declared “the gay capital of the world” by Life magazine in 1964, the City by the Bay consolidated its reputation as a gay mecca in the 1970s, offering a place where queer men, women, and transgender folk could express themselves freely. We hear from healthcare practitioners about what it meant to be gay in the sexual revolution and the promise San Francisco held for a free and empowered gay community.

Episode 2: The Virus of Fear takes a look at the medical community’s first encounter with AIDS in San Francisco. As reports began to circulate of a mysterious disease affecting gay men, fear soon spread just as fast as the virus itself. Here medical researchers and healthcare professionals discuss how the health community grappled with this fear of the unknown: from medical institutions and staff refusing to treat patients, to the internal conflict of the health practitioners themselves as they faced the reality that their pursuit to save lives could very well risk their own. Ultimately, the management of fear—among patients, the public, and the health community itself—proved to be one of the first steps in the city’s medical response to AIDS.

Episode 3: The Gay-Positive Health Community Before AIDS takes a step back and examines the efforts of public health officials in San Francisco to establish a relationship of trust with the gay community. For years, homophobia had pushed this ostracized community, gay men in particular, to seek underground health services at establishments where they could receive treatment from sympathetic or at least non-judgmental professionals. By the 1970s, however, bridges began to develop between health officials and the gay community, just as physicians within the community itself started to form their own public health networks. In this episode, we hear from practitioners from inside and outside the gay community on the work undertaken to create a gay-positive health response to rising epidemics before the arrival of AIDS in the city.

Episode 4: The Bathhouse Crisis explores a crisis that threatened to derail the developing collaboration between public health officials and the gay community. By the late 1970s, researchers had identified the city’s bathhouses as sites for the spread of disease, especially among gay men. Facing ineffective educational initiatives and a new, fast-growing epidemic, San Francisco’s Pubic Health Department ordered the closure of bathhouses in October 1984. The bonds of trust that had slowly developed between the public health service and the gay community began to fall apart, as emergency action to address the spread of disease collided with the legacy of homophobia and persecution. Here public health officials and physicians within the gay community discuss the Bathhouse Crisis and the strained relations that resulted.

Episode 5: The Fight for Resources charts the uphill battle medical researchers faced in securing the needed resources and funding to combat the AIDS epidemic. The discovery of the epidemic coincided with the rise of fiscal and social conservatism in national politics with the election of Ronald Reagan. Public health budgets were slashed and there was little sympathy or support to fight a disease affecting gay men. In this episode, medical researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and University of California San Francisco’s KS Clinic reveal how they had to improvise in this context to piece together the crucial resources needed to make headway against the epidemic.

Episode 6: The San Francisco Model (Ward 5b), our final episode, looks at how the collaboration between community members and health officials ultimately came to redefine care for AIDS. We hear medical staff and community members describe the multi-pronged approach developed at San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 5b, which combined care, research, social work, and community involvement. Together, health officials and community members pioneered a new way of treating epidemic disease and human suffering—a new way that became known as the San Francisco Model.

Featured Interviewees

Dr. Donald Abrams, one of three original members of the AIDS physician team at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983, studied the disease and spearheaded programs to accelerate research on and the availability of experimental AIDS drugs. Episodes 2, 4.Dr. Richard L. Andrews, member of Bay Area Physicans for Human Rights, a gay physicians organization, in several seminal events of the early AIDS epidemic. Episodes 1, 3, 4.Gary Carr, nurse practitioner in the AIDS Clinic at San Francisco General Hospitall. Episodes 1 and 6.
Marcus Conant, co-founder of KS Clinic, advocated tirelessly for funds and awareness for AIDS research and care.Selma Dritz, Assistant Director of Disease Control for the San Francisco Department of Health during the 1970s and the early years of the epidemic. Episodes 1, 3Donald Francis, Director of Center for Disease Control's AIDS Laboratory Activities, and principal figure of Randy Shilts' book, And the Band Played On, and the film based on it. Episodes 2, 5.
Nurse Diane Jones, founding member and staff nurse of the AIDS Special Care Unit, the celebrated in-patient AIDS ward 5B, at San Francisco General Hospital. Episode 6.Angie Lewis, R.N., nurse educator and Clinical Nurse at the University of California, San Francisco [UCSF]. Episodes 2, 6
Nurse Clifford Morrison, initial organizer and AIDS Clinical Coordinator of the first hospital ward dedicated to the care of AIDS patients, Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital. Episode 6.
Paul O'Malley, project manager at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, key role in mining the hepatitis B vaccine trial of the late 1970s and the early 1980s for information about AIDS. Episodes 1, 3Nurse Helen Schietinger, the first nurse to work at the first clinic set up expressly to care for patients with Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer which, for unknown reasons, was appearing in young gay men. Episode 5Dr. Mervyn Silverman, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health from 1977 to 1985, precisely the years in which the AIDS epidemic was building and breaking. Episodes 2, 4

Complete interview transcripts for The AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco oral history project.


This podcast was produced, written and narrated by Paul Burnett, and edited by Allie Cheroutes and Paul Burnett. Production and promotion assistance provided by David Dunham and Shanna Farrell. Special thanks to the band Do Make Say Think, whose music can be found at Constellation Records or your local record store. Additional track by Borrtex opening Episode 2, "Waiting for You." Berkeley Remix theme music by Paul Burnett. Thanks also to Scott Calonico for his piece “When AIDS was Funny” and to the archives of the Ronald Reagan Library, UC San Francisco, and San Francisco State University. All interview clips were taken from the Oral History Center collections, and the audio digitization was undertaken by David Dunham, and student employees Marisa Uribe, Carla Palassian, Aamna Haq, Hailie O’Brien, and Cindy Jin. Graphic Design by Maggie Deng and Cindy Jin.