Saturday, September 17, 2011

* The Quiet Courage of Miss Isabel Wilder





In 1983, at  a time when no one wanted to be associated in any way with AIDS which had the stigmof being a "gay disease," Miss Isabel Wilder,sister of author Thornton Wilder, quietly (and courageously)  funded the brochure below.

 AIDS, SEX and YOU created by a Yale professor of biology for a start-up New Haven group called AIDS Information Dissemination Service  was distributed to Yale graduate students after I persuaded Yale President A. Bartlett  Giamatti to overrule his timid Health Service which had refused to do so.
 
Miss Wilder  read the pamphlet from cover to cover (she did not ask to edit it in any way) and  I was surprised that she did not blink an eyelash at the coarse, graphic language. She understood the urgency of  responding with information to a fatal disease with no cure and no biologically identifiable cause (1983: HIV had not been discovered).

 
I agreed not to reveal Miss Wilder's  crucial financial role in this matter during her lifetime.
 
She died in 1995 at age 95.

ATTENTION:
Move bar to 4 minutes 41 seconds to begin this 1984 60 Minutes video story---or if you wish to see the 1972 Kent State piece, begin at the beginning.






(Move bar to 4 minutes 41 seconds.)






PROSTITUTE BELIEVED TO HAVE AIDS SURRENDERS, IS JAILED *
The Miami Herald - Feb 28, 1984

THE REGION; Escapee Gives Up*
nytimes.com - Feb 28, 1984


NOTE:  Every person interviewed in this 60 Minutes piece was angry with me for revealing the existence of this prostitute and her infant's illness, including the Chief of Police in New Haven who was a personal friend.

What was I to do? 

Had I not revealed the problem, people would die since at the time no one in America believed AIDS could be transmitted heterosexually.

My compromise was to involve the highest leaders in New Haven in a responsible project, rather than allow a witch-hunt to occur. Indeed, I even persuaded Civil Liberties attorney, John Williams, to represent the woman in court at no cost to her.

Further, I refused to co-operate with 60 Minutes unless they agreed to use a false name for the woman (i.e. "Helen"), so she could not be identified from their coverage. They went even further with their opening title-visual, suggesting that she was Caucasian.

To this day I have refused all interviews on this matter since the 60 Minutes piece first aired in 1984 and have refused to use the woman's real name in personal discussion, even though the Press revealed it after she was arrested.

A week before she died, I encountered her on the street at night when I was shoveling snow. She greeted me civilly with a "hello" a fact which relieved me mightily. I am sure that Attorney Williams had explained to her how he came to represent her, and perhaps she had forgiven me for bringing such unwanted attention to her life.

Perhaps.

I know that the owner of the liquor store across the street from my apartment house, where she traded while out on bail, had explained to her in detail how this all came about.  He told me so, as a personal friend of many years.

Almost thirty years later, I believe I did the right thing for the greatest good of humanity. Before the 60 Minutes piece Americans believed AIDS was a gay disease.

After it, they knew better.



PDK
June 3, 2013




RELATED :








This story has not previously been told.


It was 25 years ago, February 1984, that 60 Minutes revealed the story of a New Haven prostitute and heroin addict whose baby was born with AIDS and never left Yale-New Haven Hospital, living his entire, nearly three year, life in quarantine.

At first 60 Minutes refused to do the story after coming to New Haven to discuss it because, they told me, it was not a microcosm of something univeral (the criterion for all their reports) since AIDS was transmitted exclusively by gay males.

Their producer returned to New York after our discussion and the matter was over, I thought.

Two weeks later he called me and said he had been checking around and discovered that in Africa 90% of the AIDS cases were transmitted heterosexually and that he would return to New Haven to film the story.

Recall that in 1984 HIV had not yet been discovered, so there was no test to determine one had AIDS. The only conclusive symptom was the collapse of the immune system in the final stage of the illness. Further, the disease had come to be taboo since it was associated primarily with gay males.

One Yale professor stood up in a public meeting, pointed his finger at me, and told the audience "'Shun this man' for bringing 60 Minutes to town to persecute* this woman."*


He was afraid the attention would result in her being quarantined, and by later extension, the quarantine of all who had AIDS, especially gay men.

I disagreed.

In a state which had seen the Planned Parenthood victory Griswold v. Connecticut, I argued there would be no persecution. Indeed, once heterosexual transmission was known to be a possibility, the "gay disease" superstition would evaporate.

So it has.

Besides, how could I be silent knowing my silence would send others to horrible, and at that time, certain death?

Officials at Yale - New Haven Hospital and elsewhere criticized me for revealing confidential information.

So be it.


Paul D.Keane
M.Div.'80

M.A., M.Ed.



*It is worth noting here that when this woman was arrested after it was revealed that she had AIDS, I arranged for the best Civil Liberties lawyer in Connecticut, John Williams, to be her attorney at no cost to her. It is further worth noting, that I refused to cooperate with 60 Minutes unless they agreed not to use this woman's real name. "Helen" is the pseudonym they agreed on.
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