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Math is hard

I always hear that AIDS wiped out an entire generation of gay men in the eighties. So, my question is... what percentage of gay men died of AIDS? What percentage is infected today?

As of July 2008, the US population was 304,059,724.

People say Alferd Kinsey said that 10% of the population was gay. What he actually said was that 37% of the people in his study (mostly prisoners) reported some homosexual contact, 13% reported more homosexual than hetreosexual contact, and 4% only had homosexual sex.

In recent studies, 3 to 4% of Americans identify themselves as homosexual. If you include experience over an entire lifetime, the figure goes up to 5 to 7%.

Of course, in some cites and neighborhoods, gay men and women are in the majority. San Francisco is estimated at 15.4%, and Seattle at 12.9%. So a percentage taken over the entire US may not be very useful. Plus, that's just an estimate of the number alive and avowed today. It doesn't take into consideration bisexuals, "ex-gays", or people that have died over the last fifteen years.

So, I'll use 2.8% (a little more than half of 5%) of the US population is male and gay, and estimate 8.5 million homosexuals living today.

About a million people have been diagnosed with AIDS, and a half million died over the past two decades. About 70% were men who had sex with men. I am tentatively saying that that 700,000 gay men are living with HIV today, and 350,000 died from it.

Can I say that 8.2% of the gay population of the US is infected with HIV? And the AIDS crisis of the eighties and nineties claimed 4.1% of the gay population?

I wasn't out in the eighties and early nineties, so I can't say for sure. Did it seem higher at the time? Four percent seems low, but if the majority of deaths came within a span of a few years, I could see how that could be horrifying: all your friends dying around you. The swine flu ain't got nothin on AIDS.


At the end of 2006, an estimated 1,106,400 persons (95% confidence interval 1,056,400-1,156,400) in the United States were living with HIV infection, with 21% undiagnosed

AIDS in 2005
(See the box, before the References section, for AIDS definition. The following data are from 50 states and the District of Columbia.)

In the United States, HIV infection and AIDS have had a tremendous effect on men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM accounted for 71% of all HIV infections among male adults and adolescents in 2005 (based on data from 33 states with long-term, confidential name-based HIV reporting), even though only about 5% to 7% of male adults and adolescents in the United States identify themselves as MSM.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, an estimated 300,669 MSM (260,749 MSM and 39,920 MSM who inject drugs) with AIDS had died, accounting for 68% of male adults and adolescents with AIDS who had died and 57% of all people with AIDS who had died [1].

More than 500,000 gay men of all colors have died in the United States.

It is thought that more than one million people are living with HIV in the USA and that more than half a million have died after developing AIDS.

In total, an estimated 1,051,875 people have been diagnosed with AIDS in America

At the end of 2007, the CDC estimates that there were 571,378 people living with HIV/AIDS in the 39 states and dependent areas that have a history of confidential name-based HIV reporting, based on reported diagnoses and deaths2. However, the total number of people living in the USA with HIV/AIDS is thought to be around 1.1 million3. The discrepancy between these figures is due to several factors

Well, certainly the statement that it wiped out a whole generation was metaphorical, but it certainly effected an entire generation of gay men, particularly in gay urban centers, which is where most of gay culture is focused.

"Wiped out a generation" may be overstated - but I know it took a heavy toll on the motorcycle clubs and leather clubs. I can only imagine it had a similar impact on other gay male subcultures. There used to be a lot more MC's than there are now, and they were all a lot more active than they are now. Part of that's the variety of outlets available now, sure - but a good piece of it was the interruption of young 'uns being brought into the fold.

I do feel that the loss has a deeper effect becase there are far too few older folks in teh community who are left to instill any tradition, and culture into the current generations. I know I have wanted to feel I belong to something all along, and have never felt a place in the gay community where I truly "fit" in the SF bay area. there are certainly people like me whom I can identify with, but definately not enough to form a motorcyele club around, or any sort of a brotherhood that fits my interests and style. There are a few brotherhoods left. Mostly in the old guard traditional leather, and we have a lot to learn from them. I am not sure I "fit" in wit their style, but I certainly have an appreciation for the mentorship they offer, and I feel there are just not enough of the brotherhoods left in our community to fill the need of all the younger folks like me.

I know I am looking for a gearfetish club who's into sport bikes, and SCUBa diving, and anything "protective" ... When people talk about "Earning their leather" in old-guard, that's nice and all, but I dont ride a cruiser, and I don;t like how I look in chaps, and a leather vest. It's actually a turn-off to me, than a turn on. If I had to earn a track suit, and was hanging with guys on crotch rockets, I'd be VERY much more enthused.... Times have changed, and I feel like there is a void in the community for people like me. that void is only filled now by internet forums and those forums really don;t encourage much in the way of local grass-roots community building like folks had to do in the leather communiies in days past.

I'm 49 years old. I came out and became sexually active in 1978. I don't know about the actual statistics, but I can say that I lost many friends and acquaintances to AIDS in the 80s. The last time one of my friends actually died from AIDS was in 1992. In Toronto, we have an AIDS memorial that consists of a series of columns, inscribed with the names of people who have died. It is very obvious visually how the numbers grew and then diminished over the years.

My partner is 66 years old. He lost every single one of his close male friends in the 1980s. I mean this literally: every single one. Partly this was just bad luck, I think, but it indicates that the impact on his generation was particularly severe.

Maybe "entire generation" is overstating it. But I think there's a case for surveying gays by decade- how many are left in their 'fifties, for instance, compared to the rest of the population.

Was I put on this planet to be the last person who remembers who Judy Garland was?

Was I put on this planet to be the last person who remembers who Judy Garland was?

No. But sometimes it may seem like it. I remember. :-)

I didn't come out until 2001 but had read about the AIDS epidemic during the 80's and early 90's before the introduction of the cocktail in the early 1990's. It was what kept people alive who were infected but a huge number did die, men, mostly in their 20's through early 40's who were out and sexually active - and gay during that time period were the most affected by this as a general rule.

It would be interesting to see how many who are gay and who were sexually active in that time period and are still alive today and while it won't give us conclusive answers, it will give us an idea of just how wide spread it was.

Edited at 2009-05-01 01:27 am (UTC)

Yes ive seen it. People older then me are gone, are pos, and a lucky few escaped. Does it really matter if there were a few men left from that generation? It seems to be that this is really nit-picking.

The germans did not manage to wipe Jewish people off the face of the earth, but they wiped out many many of that Era. Same goes for any Panademic you wish to choose.

i remember freinds just getting sick and disapearing. You wondered if someone disapeared from the bar if you would ever see them again. You wondered if that nightsweat you just had was the begining of the end.

i have no close freinds from the 80's left on this planet, no mentors, no one to talk too.

So yes it did wipe out a generation of gay men. Numbers wont tell you this as no one went around in the 80's (or even now) registering on the census that they were gay. We will never know how many Gay men were killed by the nazis, we will never know how many were killed by GRID/AIDS, but it was a generation.

PS. Also remeber that no one really dies of AIDS. It's the opportunistic infections that kill people, usually Karposis Sarcoma or Pnemonia. AIDS rarely showed up on the death certificate, and for part of the 80's no one knew what HIV was, let alone how to treat or test for it. SO any real numbers do not exist. No one put AIDS on a death notice or a death certificate. No one connected the dots, and some of those dots were missing.

And, for those whose death certificates did state AIDS or KS, their families (whether biological or chosen) found that many funeral homes refused to serve them. For the longest time in Atlanta, there was one - ONE - funeral home in all of metro Atlanta that would "handle" those who had died of AIDS.

All I can do is speak from my own experience as a somewhat-newly-out gay man in Atlanta from '84 onwards. As I put it last December on World AIDS Day:

Around 1986-87 I was part of a "social circle" in Atlanta that was composed of somewhere between 25-30 gay men. Last I knew - and this was in 2003 - there were exactly 3 of us still living, and I was the only one who was HIV-negative.

By the time I was 40, I'd been to more funerals for friends and acquaintances than my then-70-year-old father had attended for his own friends/acquaintances.

Thanks to Faceborg, I've recently discovered that the count is down to 2 of us still living.

My post last December concluded

As I said in bobaloo's LJ earlier this year: There's an entire generation of gay men that Simply Aren't Here Any More.

No, it's neither an overstatement nor metaphorical. For those of us who lived thru the horrors and survived, those lost years and lost men will be with us always.

Do you think my estimate is correct? That 8% of the current gay male population has HIV, and 4% died from AIDS over the last twenty years?

The CDC, so far as I know, has never calculated a size for the MSM population or shown (publicly) their standard rate per 1,000 table, cross-sectioned that way.

You could make a case that the population number to take might be circa 1990. http://www.npg.org/facts/us_historical_pops.htm

Regarding the 'lost generation' thing, here's a calculation of why your numbers may not "feel" right.

Start with an average of 240M and 252M (1982, 1991), for an average of 246M Americans. Take 3% as gay.

The prevalence of the disease is concentrated in those ages 20-50, of say 65 year life expectancy. (50-20)/65=0.46

Then, assume that the a small fraction of those gay people actually make it to an urban center and, even then, a small number of them, say 1/3 are out-and-proud, a.k.a. "the community". Generously, 1/3? (wild ass guess, that)

As painful as it is to recall, use 1992's CDC report (special mention to Figure 6...),

to find an *estimated* 142,000 deaths, with MSM as the risk-factor. Of course, those aren't all in urban centers, but ...

That gives an incidence rate of near 17%.

At least, that feels like it up in the range that is more like it.

As another measure of impact, bear in mind that there were about 58,000 U.S. military casualties in the Vietnam war, with and about 153,000 wounded.

Not sure of the stats, but it did seem, or felt higher in the 80's. Maybe because it was so new, and we were (at least SF was) in the *thick* of things. As for me, I lost over 90% of my friends to AIDS in the 80's. It did affect business (Clubs closed, bars closed, and also we lost so much of the "Old Guard", our link to gay history, and the old ways of the community (which I needed to learn so much from at the time). Those times, before internet, seemed to bring our community closer, due to our pain, and need for solace. Not sure if it's good or bad thing, we are a different community, a changed community. It was devastating times, and still is. But is seems that the younger have not learned from our history. Bare backing anyone? OY! :(

I lost 7 out of 9 of my very closest friends and scores of others. My main social activity in the late 80's & early 90's was going to funerals and hospitals. I watched my best friend die in my arms an another died while I was in the next room.

It has devasted my entire generation of gay men and some of us are still shell shocked by it. I have emerged from that shell but I still see other in it. Sometimes I will go to the Eagle or Folsom or Gay Pride and their spirits are still there and at times it is overwhelming. I am 52 and it has decimated my generation.

Just to put another anecdote onto it, I'm 55. I've been out and exclusively gay since I was 20. Not even one other gay person I knew in my 20's is still alive. None of the men who were my partners from that time survived. Not even one. It still haunts me to know that I'll grow old without being able to share my history with anyone else who was there.

i think that a base percentage is no proper measure of what was lost, as the gay communities that came together after Stonewall greatly upend such simple measures- maybe as an overall percentage, the numbers would be low, but within the communities, the devastation was tidal and savage, and much that had had been started in less than 15 years was utterly undone. Over and over, I've heard from those who lived and survived though those times that it seemed as if suddenly, most everyone you knew just died...

I came out in SF just in time for the age of Lazarus as the Protease inhibiters were making miraculous inroads, and suddenly the obituaries shank to just a page or two in the papers. Yet as a gay man in my thirties, I was keenly aware of the social gap in SF - there were some older, and many younger around, but of my own age, there was a definite sense of rarity, and most all of us had come to SF from elsewhere. The few locals who'd been through the heart of the storm had appallingly sad stories off all that had been and all that was gone and buried. And the shadows of ghosts abounded- find some old-timer to walk you down 11th street some time, and tell you what all of the breeder clubs there used to be....

Also remember that when the first fairs were held on Folsom street, they had a strong business theme, as it was in part a grand celebration of the nearly 200 gay owned or gay oriented businesses in the neighborhood, at the time. I don't know the truth of it now, but the last I heard that number was down to something like 20, with the slack being filled by corporate and outside interests. It makes for a good show, but it's far from what it once was

City Lights sells a book called Reclaiming San Francisco, which among many other interesting essays includes The Miracle Mile: A History of Gay Male Culture in SOMA that I would highly recommend. It's a good illumination of what is otherwise poorly recorded: the histories I learned while there in SF are mostly tenuous and poorly preserved. You might also try Samuel Delany's Times Square Red, Time Square Blue for a view form the other side of the world (albeit a much more specifically focused one)

Really, all that I would try to say to you, grandchild of Lazarus, is that you have no real idea of what all was lost.

There is the history of the political struggle itself, too. I mean, I just had a look at the Wikipedia "AIDS Timeline" and it is so ... nondescriptive.

Here is Mark Herrington on Martin DeLaney (neither of whom I know personally), as another of the living-memory links to the past passes:

"Gay men" is a population that is impossible to pin down so you can't really talk about "percentage of gay men" in a meaningful way.

Among the people you and I know, I would say the HIV prevalence rate is about 50%. And of the people we would have known, half are already dead. So compared to an imaginary universe where HIV never existed, we are left with about 25% of that group still both alive and HIV-negative.

I Stopped Counting at 200

I can look back at group pics and I am the only one left alive.
I am 48 and started having mansex at 14.