HIV/AIDS Coverage in Louisiana Newspapers, 1983-1992, Philip Ross


New Orleans has been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that began in the United States in the early 1980s, and the devastation caused by the disease is far from over. A 2016 report of HIV infection rates in U.S. cities showed that New Orleans has the third highest rate of new HIV infection in the country, while the city of Baton Rouge has the highest. Research suggests that New Orleans and other areas in the southern U.S. due to high rates of IV drug use and a lack of treatment programs as well as a lack of access to effective sexual health information and education. Research also highlights racial disparities in income and access to education and healthcare and endemic homophobic attitudes as factors that have put areas in the southern United States, and New Orleans and Baton Rouge in particular, at high risk for HIV transmission.

Evidence of New Orleans’ unique relationship with HIV/AIDS can be seen in even the earliest news coverage of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that took hold of the United States in the 1980s. Understanding of HIV/AIDS at this time was limited at best, and most major news coverage of the disease was quick to emphasize the connection between AIDS infection and homosexuality. Given New Orleans’ history as a city with a large and vibrant LGBTQ community, news sources were quick to recognize the risk that the city faced. The progression of HIV/AIDS within New Orleans was slow in comparison to other cities, especially those with similarly notable gay populations such as New York and San Francisco. Some reports suggest that a number of factors, such as a lack of resources and education, inadequate or biased reporting methods, and a reluctance to identify oneself as infected with AIDS may have kept official reports of the number of AIDS cases within the city low, even as the actual number of cases continued to climb. Whether the reported incidence was accurate or not, the impact of the disease was clear from very early on. Short pieces about perfectly healthy young men becoming sick and dying in a matter of months began to appear with increasing frequency in Times-Picayune/The States-Item. As the disease continued to spread, these short pieces became full-page special reports depicting the fear and anguish felt by members of the gay community as they watched their friends and loved ones waste away. Attempts by gay activist organizations to raise awareness and advocate for further research were consistently hindered by a lack of sufficient resources and funding to institute effective intervention methods. These challenges extended to organizations such as Charity Hospital, which was tasked with caring for AIDS patients with nowhere else to go, despite a lack of effective treatment options and the looming threat of funding cuts.

The early stages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New Orleans were characterized by fear and confusion. Patients became ill and died at a terrifying rate, and efforts to find effective treatment were slow and often fruitless. Advocacy efforts organized by dedicated individuals hindered at every turn by a lack of resources and a number of administrations that were seemingly unwilling to acknowledge the destructive power of the disease. There have been incredible advances in the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in the time since, but New Orleans continues to face many of the challenges that it faced during the early stages of the Epidemic. The city continues to have incredibly high rates of transmission and struggles to provide adequate treatment and support. Those most at risk are unable to access the information and resources they need, and methods of disseminating information about the prevention of HIV/AIDS continue to be insufficient.


Mulvhill, Kathleen A. “AIDS: Mystery Disorder” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 11 Apr. 1983, section 3, pp.4-5.

Article describes the atmosphere and attitudes during the early stages of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New Orleans. Homosexual men have been identified as “at risk,” but prevention methods and education efforts are almost non-existent. Grant proposals for funding for additional research and support services were denied by the state. 6 AIDS cases reported in Louisiana, majority are homosexual men from the New Orleans area. The actual number of men who had been exposed/were potentially showing symptoms at this point suggested to be much higher.

Lesser, David. “Nation’s Concerns About AIDS Mirrored in LA.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 29 May 1983, section 1, p.15.

Article discusses the spread of HIV/AIDS, the similarities between the status of Louisiana and other parts of the country, such as New York and San Francisco, that have been hit especially hard. Association between HIV/AIDS infection and a high-risk sexual activity leads to increased awareness and fear within the gay community. Increased fear about AIDS and the lack of a firm diagnostic method leads to an influx of people attributing everyday conditions to AIDS infection. New Orleans mayor Dutch Morial calls for increased focus on research and acquiring funding.

The Chicago Tribune. “Morial Helps Write Resolution for AIDS Study.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 15 June 1983, section 1, p. 17.

New Orleans mayor Dutch Morial helps to write a resolution, prompts Reagan Administration highlight AIDS as its “Number 1 health priority.” Margaret Heckler, Health and Human Services Secretary, pledges to apply for additional funding for AIDS research but states that AIDS does not present a risk for the “general population,” refers to the increasing concern about AIDS as “unwarranted.” Republican officials resist the allocation of additional funding and feel that AIDS should not take priority over other diseases that affect a larger portion of the population.

Nolan, Bruce. “Don’t Donate Blood, Potential Carriers of AIDS are Asked.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 18 July 1983, section 1, p. 11.

Article discusses the FDA recommendation that blood banks attempt to screen out potential donors who are at high risk for AIDS infection, including Homosexuals, recent Haitian immigrants and intravenous drug users. No diagnostic test available, blood banks urged to institute precautionary measure. Members of gay organizations in LA say that many homosexuals were already excluding themselves before the recommendation was announced.

Lesser, David. “AIDS Claim Too High, Doctor Says.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 20 July 1983, section 1, pp. 13-14.

Dr. Brobson Lutz, New Orleans Director of Health, says that claims of additional AIDS cases that have not been officially reported are exaggerated and are contributing to the “hysteria” surrounding the disease. Other doctors report that the CDC is ignoring reports of new AIDS cases and that the official number of cases is inaccurate. Lutz and others say that, despite the high fatality rate and quick progression of the disease, AIDS does not represent an threat to the general population and continues to mainly be a concern for homosexuals and IV drug users.

Lesser, David. “Gays Find Good Note in Festival” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 7 Sept. 1983, section 1, p. 17.

Article discusses the New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus’ participation in a nationwide choral festival in New York. Number of men participating reduced from normal membership, due to fear of association with a gay group. Group wishes to use publicity to make it clear that they “are not Intravenous Drug Users.” Article also discusses plans for the New Orleans AIDS Task Force to begin fundraising to raise money for AIDS-related programs.

Pope, John. “Steamboat President Vetoes Stance on Gays.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 25 Sept. 1983, section 1, p. 18.

Mystic Krewe of Tragoidia, a gay Carnival Krewe, holds benefit on steamboat for organizations that provide support and counseling to AIDS patients. The steamboat company had previously refused to allow the Krewe to hold their event because of their status as a gay organization, but faced threat of breach-of-contract.

Ashton, Gayle. “AIDS March Turns Heads in Quarter.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 9 Oct. 1983, section 1, p.2.

March through the Quarter organized by gay organizations to raise awareness about AIDS, honor the deceased, highlight discrimination and prejudice, advocate for additional funding and support.

Ashton, Gayle. “Tulane AIDS Study Will Take Two Years.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 28 Oct. 1983, section 1, p. 24.

Tulane organizes study to determine if certain members of the gay community are at an increased risk of becoming infected with AIDS. Scientific community has some understanding of how AIDS affects the body, but still have little understanding of the causative agent, what puts certain groups at an increased risk.

Landis, Dylan. “No Need for AIDS Hysteria, Doctor Says.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 28 Jan. 1984, section 2, p. 3.

Article discusses AIDS forum that urges medical personnel not to fear AIDS transmission from treating infected patients. Article also discusses the unique state of HIV/AIDS in Louisiana. Larger percentage of patients fall outside of the traditional “high-risk” groups, and there have been no cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma, which is often associated with AIDS and used as a potential diagnostic tool. Article acknowledges that some patients may refuse to admit that they belong to a high-risk group due to fear of discrimination and ostracism.

Behre, Patricia. “Bible Quotes Pace Gay Rights Debate.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 9 Mar. 1984, p. 1.

Proposed ordinance to ban discrimination against homosexuals is met with significant resistance from various religious officials in New Orleans. Individuals suggest that ban would promote homosexuality in schools and among children, and would attract homosexuals to New Orleans, causing the AIDS crisis to worsen.

Donze, Frank. “Mayors Urged to Keep Public Aware of AIDS.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 17 June 1984, section 1, p. 3.

AIDS researchers emphasize the importance of widespread education efforts about AIDS, urge mayor to support education and prevention efforts. New Orleans mayor Morial says office is implementing an education program to provide seminars on AIDS to gay community.

Pope, John. “AIDS Fears Among N.O. Gays are Growing.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 27 May 1985, p. 1.

Article discusses the increasing fear and concern among the New Orleans gay community. People note that AIDS hit New Orleans more slowly than other cities with large homosexual populations such as New York and San Francisco, may have contributed to a slower response. Community has taken notice of the significant increase in rate of infection and death toll. Gay community responds by adopting more cautious attitude towards sex, sex education materials appear in gay bars. AIDS cases continue to appear in individuals who are outside the groups traditionally seen as “high-risk.” The number of these cases is small, but proportionally larger than in other areas of the country.

Donze, Frank. “Morial Forbids Discrimination Against Gays.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 22 June 1985, p. A25.

New Orleans mayor Morial implements policy that forbids employment and housing discrimination against homosexuals in New Orleans. Similar ordinance had been brought before the New Orleans city council, but did not pass. Also discusses a conference held by the city to celebrate and educate other about gay culture, provide information on AIDS, and discuss the role of gays in politics among other topics.

Bond, Gay Lynn. “Charity and the Treatment of AIDS Patients.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 9 July 1985, p. A10.

Opinion letter written by Gay Lynn Bond, Director of Charity Hospital’s Social Service Department, discusses the difficulty faced when trying to provide adequate care and support for AIDS patients. At the time, no facility in Louisiana would provide long-term care for AIDS patients. Nursing homes and other facilities able to deny admission based on AIDS diagnosis. Charity Hospital is only able to provide short-term acute medical care. Budget restrictions and an ever-increasing number of patients continually hinder attempts to provide support and home healthcare for discharged patients still in need of long-term care.

Pope, John. “City Lacks Money for AIDS Data.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 8 Aug. 1985, p. A38.

City plans for an AIDS Information Center in the French Quarter that will provide educational materials engage in community health projects and provide other useful information and services. However, city is unable to provide funding to cover the operating costs. Federal or private funding is required to get the center up and running and train workers.

Pope, John. “AIDS: Plague of the ‘80s – Killer’s Trail has Left Few Clue to Cure.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 11 Aug. 1985, p. 1, A10-A11.

The first of a three part special report. Article gives background on the status of the AIDS Epidemic, both in New Orleans and nationally. Provides general information about AIDS transmission and those who are most at risk, as well as the lack of effective treatment options and high death rate. Research exploring a number of potential treatments and causes is ongoing and subject to frequent debate.

Pope, John. “AIDS: Plague of the ‘80s – Safe Sex Leader: Little Done Locally to Defuse Time Bomb.” The Times-Picayune/The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 12 Aug. 1985, pp. 1, A12.

The second of a three part special report. Discusses the losses experienced within the New Orleans gay community. Gay community makes an effort to spread information about AIDS, emphasize importance of safe sex, organize benefits and fundraisers for victims, but behavior change is slow and either met with resistance or ignored. Discusses the lack of effective response from the city, the potential discrimination that community members and AIDS patients face. Emphasizes the importance of providing safe sex AIDS information to heterosexual community as well to prevent potential transmission.
Also includes “case studies” of two different AIDS patients, a heterosexual male and a female IV drug user, who recount their experience living with AIDS.

Pope, John. “AIDS: Plague of the ‘80s – $139,000 a Patient Spent, Study Says.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 12 Aug. 1985, p. A12.

The second of a three part special report. Discusses the costs associated with treating AIDS patients, both in Louisiana and Nationwide. Louisiana lacks adequate funding for effective AIDS research. Also lacks funding to provide patients with adequate care and support. The high level of care and frequent hospitalization of AIDS patients amplified this problem. Charity Hospital in New Orleans provides care for many AIDS patients who cannot afford care, but budget cuts put further strain and restriction on the level of care they can provide.

Pope, John. “AIDS: Plague of the ‘80s – Charity Cradles the Dying.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 13 Aug. 1985, p. 1, A6.

The third of a three part special report. Discusses the economic and budgetary difficulties faced by Charity Hospital in New Orleans, as well as the fears and experiences of the nurses who provide care to AIDS patients during their last few months.

Pope, John. “AIDS: Plague of the ‘80s – Chaplain Offers Sustenance by Lending a Sympathetic Ear.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 13 Aug. 1985, p. 1, A6.

The third of a three part special report. Discusses the experiences and difficulties faces by social services workers and counselors as they attempt to provide emotional support to AIDS patients in the last phase of their lives.

Pope, John. “LA. Task Force to be Named in AIDS Fight.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 21 Aug. 1985, pp. A21-A22.

Article discusses formation of AIDS task force in LA to determine research priorities and allocate limited funding made available for AIDS work in LA. Task force members include medical personnel, researchers, members of gay organizations, religious leaders.

Pope, John. “AIDS Task Force Given 3 Months to Draft Policy.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 23 Aug. 1985, p. A18.

Article discusses timeline and funding for AIDS task force. Objectives include prioritizing projects and research efforts and identifying potential sources of funding. LA budget unable to fund AIDS special projects.

Ogilvie, John F. “AIDS: Out of the Closet.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 6 Sept. 1985, p. A22.

Opinion letter written by a member of the New Orleans gay community. Discusses the importance of making AIDS information available, increased visibility from celebrities such as Rock Hudson coming forward as being infected with AIDS.

Warner, Coleman. “Blood Test Finds Few Exposed to AIDS.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 31 Sept. 1985, p. A31.

Article discusses the rarity of AIDS transmission and infection through blood banks due to increased screening options, efforts from within the gay community to encourage AIDS patients not to donate.

Pope, John. “AIDS Scare Closing Bathhouse.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 23 Nov. 1985, pp. A19-A20.

Article discusses the impact of AIDS crisis on bathhouses in the New Orleans area. Some offer safe sex information and easy access to condoms, while others attempt to eliminate opportunities for sexual activity. While bathhouses and sex clubs in other cities have been closed, no effort made to close bathhouses in New Orleans

Pierce, Neal. “Will AIDS ‘Break the Bank’ of Cities and Charities?” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 2 Dec. 1985, p. A25.

Article discusses the massive cost of AIDS research, support services and prevention efforts compared to the modest improvements in treatments and knowledge. Emphasizes the importance of education and prevention.

Pope, John. “Mexican Stores Draw AIDS Victims Hoping Drugs Fight Disease.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 14 Apr. 1986, pp. A15-A16.

Article discusses an increase in U.S. AIDS patients traveling to Mexico in order to obtain AIDS medication that has not been cleared by the FDA. Doctors do not recommend this course of action, but understand the patients’ desire to try anything. Customs agents have become accustomed encountering these patients, and some have adopted more lenient policies.

Pope, John. “Fear of AIDS Linked to Sex Disease Drop.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 22 Apr. 1986, p. A18.

Article discusses a decrease in the rates of syphilis and gonorrhea in New Orleans since 1983. Noted that STD/STI rates are lower among homosexual men in New Orleans area as well. Suggested that increased advocacy for safe sex from within the gay community contributed to this decrease.

Pope, John. “Virus may not be the Only Cause of AIDS Cancer.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 7 May 1986, p. A26.

Article discusses a hypothesized link between the use of “poppers,” an inhalant drug used by some members of the gay community, and the development of Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer that is common in homosexual men with AIDS but less common in women and children with AIDS. Article also discusses the risks of Mother to Child Transmission of AIDS. Doctors urge women with the disease not to breastfeed, in some cases consider abortion due to high incidence of transmission from mother to child.

Carey, Daniel. “AIDS Policy Called Absurd.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 20 July 1987.

Article discusses the response to the Reagan Administration’s AIDS control measures. Vic Basile, executive director of Human Rights Campaign Fund, calls the policies “absurd.” He criticizes the control efforts as slow moving and ineffective, suggests that stronger action be taken.

Fitzgerald, Thomas. “Gay Rights March a Mix of Protest and Celebration.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 12 Oct. 1987, p. A3.

Article discusses gay rights march in Washington to raise awareness for AIDS, protest discrimination against homosexuals and AIDS patients and express discontent with the actions and policies of the Reagan Administration. Includes interviews with participants from New Orleans

Cannizaro, Steve. “Man Sues Sex Partner Over AIDS Infection.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 14 Oct. 1987, p. B5.

Article discusses a lawsuit filed by a New Orleans man who became infected with AIDS after engaging in sexual contact with two men who had told him they did not have AIDS but were later revealed to be infected with the virus. The plaintiff’s lawyer suggests that similar cases will appear in the future.

Pope, John. “AIDS Forecast is Dreary.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 23 Oct. 1987, p. A9.

Articles discusses the challenges in the fight against AIDS including the slow progression of research and the large amount of funding to conduct research, the high cost of treatment per patient and the lack of support for those most in need, and the potential for the number of cases to increase exponentially over a small amount of time.

Dodds, Richard. “Rallying the Arts World Against AIDS.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 6 Nov. 1987, p. 3.

Article discusses the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the art world, both in New Orleans and Nationwide. The article also includes information about a number of performances and exhibits intended to raise funds and awareness about AIDS in New Orleans

Pope, John. “Nuptials Include Test for AIDS Virus.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 27 Dec. 1987, p. B1, B4.

Article discusses new legislation requiring couples to provide proof that both have been tested for AIDS before they can apply for a marriage license. Legislation criticized as an inefficient use of resources and for the possibility it may subject some to discrimination.

Pope, John. “AIDS Memorial Quilt to be Displayed in N.O.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 28 Mar. 1988, p. B3.

Information regarding the AIDS quilt display in New Orleans, as well as information about additional exhibits and displays around the city that seek to raise awareness about AIDS.

Pope, John. “Policy is eased on Unapproved AIDS Drugs.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 23 July 1988, p. B6.

FDA changes policy regarding AIDS drugs that have not been approved, will no longer prosecute AIDS patients taking unapproved therapies as long as they are recommended by a doctor and the patient has a limited supply.

Pope, John. “Hope Prolonged for U.S. Help on AIDS Medication.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 12 Aug. 1988, p. A5.

Regan administration announces plan to make AIDS drugs more available, speed up distribution and find additional funding to provide AIDS medication to patients who cannot otherwise afford it. Also moves to ban employment discrimination against federal employees with AIDS, but does not identify plan to ban discrimination in other areas.

King, Ronette. “AIDS Risks to Blacks Stressed.” The Times-Picayune/ The States-Item [New Orleans, LA], 1 Dec. 1988, p. B3.

Article highlights increased risk of AIDS infection faced by the black communities in low income areas of Louisiana due to a lack of effective sex and AIDS education, lack of funding and a failure to involve churches and other community centers when designing intervention methods

Pope, John. “AIDS Figures Indicate Education Efforts Help.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 6 Jan. 1989, p. B5.

Study of AIDS patient demographics show that proportion of Gay and Bisexual men decreased, indicating that education efforts emphasizing the importance of safe sexual practices may have been effective in slowing transmission of AIDS among this group

Pope, John. “AIDS in the ‘90s – Killer Virus Seeps into Mainstream of Louisiana Life.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 28 May 1989, p. A1.

In Louisiana AIDS begins to move out of traditional high-risk groups, affecting individuals in other groups more frequently. Interventions and prevention methods mainly focused on homosexuals up until this point, lack of information about AIDS and how it is transmitted available to other groups

Martin, Alex. “At Church-run Lazarus House, Life is Treasured.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 29 May 1989, p. A1.

Article focuses on the Lazarus House, a group home in New Orleans that provides shelter and assistance to homeless AIDS patients. Few other organizations exist that provide the same service. Article offers a glimpse at the lives and experiences of those staying at the Lazarus House

Pope, John. “Addicts Gain on Gays in AIDS Cases.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 9 Jan. 1991, p. A1.

Article highlights increases in number of AIDS cases among IV drug users, in black communities and in low-income communities. AIDS cases among homosexuals make up a smaller proportion of the total.

Pope, John. “State Lags in AIDS Treatment.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 11 Jan. 1991, p. B6.

Article discusses inadequacy of AIDS treatment programs in Louisiana. Charity Hospital is unable to provide adequate care for such a large population of AIDS patients, additional funding for new health facilities needed to provide effective care.

Negley, Jennifer. “Walkers from all walks of life – 6000 step out to join AIDS fight.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 10 Oct. 1991, p. A11.

Second annual NO/AIDS walk attracts a diverse crowd of people in and effort to raise money for the fight against AIDS. Effort to change the perception of AIDS from a “gay disease” to a disease that can affect people from all walks of life

Pope, John. “AIDS Cases Surging among LA Women.” The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], 4 Jan. 1992, p. A1.

AIDS continues to affect members of the heterosexual community more and more, particularly women. Rates among IV drug users continue to increase, this particular group is harder to reach with education and prevention efforts.