In this podcast, we look back on the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when little was known about the disease including just how far-reaching and destructive it would become.
In our first story, we hear from Stefan Lynch Strassfeld. Growing up in San Francisco in the late 70s and early 80s, Stefan was raised by his gay father, Michael Lynch, and his stepfather, Bill Lewis (top photo second from right). Surrounded by a large network of his fathers’ friends, Stefan referred to his extended family as “his aunties.” Beginning in 1982, Stefan watched a number of those he was closest to die from AIDS. He came to StoryCorps with his friend, Beth Teper (below), to remember how the disease devastated his world.
Stefan later became the first director of COLAGE, a national organization that connects people who have lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer parents.
Our second story brings us to the South. Ruth Coker Burks was a young mother in her early 20s when the AIDS epidemic hit her home state of Arkansas. Despite having no medical training, Ruth took it upon herself to care for those suffering from the disease when their families, and even trained medical professionals, abandoned them.
Ruth estimates that she cared for nearly a thousand people since the early 1980s, with one of those being Paul Wineland’s partner. Ruth and Paul (above) sat down for StoryCorps to talk about her experience visiting a friend at a Little Rock hospital where one of the state’s early AIDS patients lay dying.
Not all the people Ruth helped care for were abandoned. Over the years, she met many people who stayed with their loved ones. In our next story, Jim Harwood (above), whose son died of AIDS, reconnects at StoryCorps with Ruth more than a decade after they last spoke.
In our final story, we hear from Reverend Eric Williams. In 1991 in Kansas City, Missouri, he was a young pastor who had just taken charge of his own church when he received a phone call from a funeral home asking him to bury a gay man who had died from AIDS. His first reaction was to refuse. But as he told his colleague Jannette Berkley-Patton (below) at StoryCorps, “everything good that I have been able to accomplish has started with some kind of a burden. And AIDS burdened me. So reluctantly, I did the funeral.”
According to Rev. Williams, the experience of meeting the boy’s family changed him and since that time he has devoted himself to ministering to people with AIDS and their families, as well as educating others about the disease.
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Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
“Lola” by Podington Bear from the album Thoughtful
“Repose” by Podington Bear from the album Tender
“Trist” by Podington Bear from the album Duets
“Genius and the Thieves” by Eluvium from the album An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death
“The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan” by Chris Zabriskie from the album Undercover Vampire Policeman