Bay Area residents recognized World AIDS Day Sunday in San Francisco. NBC Bay Area's Monte Francis reports.
Bay Area residents recognized World AIDS Day Sunday in San Francisco.
Dozens of people gathered for a special tribute at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park. The names of those lost to the AIDS epidemic were illuminated at the Grove.
The event brought together supporters and friends to remember and honor people who have died from AIDS.
In 1981, one of the first patients diagnosed with AIDS was treated at San Francisco General Hospital. That same year, a headline in the Bay Area Reporter referred to AIDS "gay cancer."
During the event, people attended a showing of "We Were Here" at the Castro Theatre. The documentary chronicled the AIDS epidemic, which claimed the lives of more than 18,000 gay men in San Francisco.
People who lived in the Castro District back in the 80s said they will never forget the impact the disease had on their community.
"There was a tremendous amount of fear, and this came out of nowhere, and our community was just finding its political power and finding its pride in identity as gay people," said David Weissman, who is the director of "We Were Here."
The event was also an opportunity to remind people that the fight against HIV and AIDS is not over.
"The wonderful thing is that there is treatment, but people are still dying from AIDS all over the world," Weissman said.
While AIDS was originally thought to be a gay disease, it spread to the heterosexual community.
Celebrities, including Magic Johnson, announced they were HIV positive, and perceptions began to change. In the 1990s, researchers discovered a breakthrough with drug combinations, which did not cure the disease, but ended the death sentence associated with the virus, enabling people with HIV to live long, active lives.
"And suddenly, it went from a disease that people died of, to a disease that people live with," AIDS activist and educator Ed Wolf said.
35 million people worldwide are living with HIV, including one million in the United States. However, infections have plummeted in the last decade.
But it is estimated only one-third of those who could benefit from HIV drugs actually receive them.
This was the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day.