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Community in crisis

New Smithsonian AIDS exhibit gathers ‘80s-era artifacts

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Vintage pins from the exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of American History)

On June 5, 1981, five unusual cases of pneumonia in patients in Los Angeles were reported in the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly,” a newsletter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It was the first notice taken by federal public health officials of a deadly virus — later dubbed HIV, for human immunodeficiency virus — that already claimed countless lives, but without a diagnosis pinpointing why. The plague had begun. It just didn’t have a name yet.

Now, 30 years later, the National Museum of American History, one of the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, the same museum featuring serious history and also pop culture, is marking this anniversary of what became known as the HIV and AIDS epidemic with a three-party display and website beginning June 3.

“With this first official notice of the illness, thousands were infected before anyone knew,” says the exhibit’s curator, Katherine Ott, who has been working with an American History Museum team to plan it for the past year and a half. “The full pattern simply didn’t emerge until later.”

The public health and scientific as well as political responses to HIV/AIDS during the earliest phase, from 1981 to 1987, with original magazine covers and copies of reports plus lab equipment used to isolate the virus, are the focus of one of the three parts, the showcase to be in the museum’s Science in American Life exhibition area.

Another set of materials, dating from 1985 through 2009 — including movie posters, such as for the 1993 film “Philadelphia” starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington — will show in the museum’s Archives Center how individuals and society were affected by the epidemic.

Finally, on the first-floor Artifacts Wall, the museum will display a panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt of the Names Project Foundation, honoring Roger Lyon, who died of complications from AIDS in 1984. A year earlier, Lyons testified before a Congressional hearing, throwing down a challenge to his listeners: “I came here today to ask that this nation with all its resources and compassion not let my epitaph read that he died of red tape.”

But red tape and even worse, reluctance to face facts, often rooted in homophobia, led to denial that anything serious was happening and a crucial delay in addressing the epidemic. For years it was ignored by many in the political establishment, such as President Ronald Reagan, whose first speech on the subject only came in 1987.

Looking back at the early period, as the illness emerged and little was done to combat it, Ott, a lesbian, says “I have friends who died, mostly in the 1980s, as a result.”

“There’s a visceral aspect to this that other anniversaries just don’t have, for people who lived through this, including those who became sero-positive in the 1980s and are still alive,” says Ott, who also has “friends and colleagues who are living with AIDS now.”

“Anniversaries like this one are a perfect time to reflect, to see where we are today, and how much things have changed, because it’s almost two generations now since the first HIV reports. But in HIV years it’s probably more like seven generations. So much has changed.”

A month after the first CDC newsletter notice came a short article in the New York Times, headlined “Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals,” and as the year 1981 ended, 121 deaths were recorded with the cause labeled “gay-related immune deficiency” or GRID.

The Grim Reaper indeed stalked gay men but as the scourge was fully understood, one caused by a virus passed through blood or bodily fluid transmission, its dimensions were finally understood as constituting a global pandemic afflicting both genders, and worst of all in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2009, an estimated 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV-AIDS, with 2.1 million fatalities from the illness that year and also with 2.6 million new infections every year.

Today an estimated 600,000 men, women and children in the U.S. have lost their lives to the many complications from AIDS. Although numbers of those infected had been dropping in the U.S. earlier, that has begun to change in recent years. In 2009, District of Columbia HIV-AIDS officials reported that at least 3 percent of D.C. residents have HIV or AIDS. D.C. is now often called the nation’s HIV-AIDS capital.

Ott, whose Ph.D. is in the history of science and medicine from Temple University, has been a curator at the museum for 15 years. She acknowledges that the exhibit has been extensively vetted within the museum, due to the controversy last year at a sister Smithsonian museum, the National Portrait Gallery, over the “Hide/Seek” exhibit there. She said Brent Glass, the History Museum director, “because of sensitivity over that,” had asked for a review of the HIV-AIDS exhibit by “the Castle,” a reference to the Smithsonian headquarters. Glass now says that, “this display will help visitors understand why these events gripped America 30 years ago.”

Ott says she hopes there’s an audience for the new exhibit, especially for younger people whom she says “have no idea really what we went through, and who now know that HIV infection is not an automatic death sentence, the way it was 25 or 30 years ago.”

She says she has interns today who have never even heard of Rock Hudson, the actor whose death from AIDS-related illness in 1985 made him one of the first celebrities to die from the virus. She sees the exhibit as “a chance for younger people to learn about how there were still sodomy laws in half of the states and how homophobia and the fear of this disease was so intense in the 1980s.”

Of course the virus is not specific to gay male sex, but because it was first detected there, and spread so rapidly through the gay male community, it became linked in the public’s mind to gay males as well as two other marginalized or outsider groups, Haitians and intravenous-drug users. The stigma was deeply set and led to laws being passed that discriminated against people with AIDS in insurance and housing and the workplace.

These sanctions were linked to homophobia and often took the form of enforcing traditional attitudes about sexuality, as cities like San Francisco and New York took steps by 1984 to close down bathhouses and sex clubs. But gay males and their allies, often lesbians, began to act when others would not, to care for those stricken with the illness as well as to push back against vicious anti-gay ignorance with public education campaigns to promote what came to be known as “safe sex.”

The museum exhibit showcases this entire period, with a focus on several of the stages — first, as a public health crisis, when the word was being passed about how AIDS was transmitted and how to prevent the disease’s spread; and then as a scientific mystery, when a high-stakes international race began, to find the cause of the illness; and also as a political flashpoint, when some voices were raised condemning homosexuality as a sin and sometimes even that AIDS was a suitable punishment for such infractions. Other voices challenged Reagan administration inaction, especially in 1987 when activists took to the streets in civil disobedience through ACT UP — the “AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power,” with its familiar pink triangle and its emblematic slogan of “Silence = Death.”

Depicting these stages are magazine covers such as one from The Advocate in 1981, with its front-page headline question, “Is The Urban Gay Male Lifestyle Hazardous to your Health?” about the “new diseases attacking gay men.

Another cover story — headlined “Epidemic,” about the “mysterious and deadly disease called AIDS” — appeared in Newsweek in April 1983. Ott says that its lead author decided to focus on the illness partly as a result of the fact that he had a brother who was gay and who later died from AIDS complications.

Other items on display are the early reports and pamphlets charting the course of efforts to combat the disease. The museum has collected what Ott calls “a lot of the paper ephemera, much of which was educational, to get the word out, including efforts to promote safe-sex practices, such as a booklet titled “How To Have Sex in An Epidemic,” co-authored by Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen, advocating the use of condoms and other measures for safe sex; and a pamphlet from 1982 titled “Healthy Sex is Great Sex.”

Also shown is an early safe-sex teaching manual, “Teaching AIDS: A Resource Guide on AIDS,” co-authored by a social worker Marcia Quackenbush, whom Ott says “began working in sex education with gay youth in San Francisco and she’s still active.”

Quackenbush in fact will be among the bloggers at the exhibit’s website, which will log in new comments from experts about the exhibit once or twice a month.  The exhibit is expected to run until November, though no definite closing has been set yet; it will depend on when the museum’s West Wing, where the materials on display will be housed, must be closed for renovations.

Some of the displayed material comes from the extensive collection of research materials donated in 2008 to the museum by the writer John-Manuel Andriote, author of the 1999 book “Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America.” Andriote, who lived in Washington for several decades until returning home to Connecticut in 2007, completed in 2010 a series of interviews to update the book, which will be re-issued later this year in a new edition.

Andriote, who learned he was HIV-positive in 2005, says that in his interviews last year he was, “Startled to hear gay men now say that their sense of the crisis has passed, that HIV has become ‘normal,’ a harsh fact of life but not what defines or necessarily ends it.”

The exhibit also displays antibody tests from 1985 and condoms distributed to gay men in the early and mid-1980s, with a stress on the importance of their use to combat AIDS. One section shows how those test kits emerged from the research in 1983-1984 of two physicians, Luc Montagnier (Pasteur Institute, Paris) and Robert Gallo (National Institute of Health, Bethesda), whose pioneering lab work led to them being recognized as the co-discoverers of HIV as the virus responsible for the cause of AIDS. They co-patented the test kit and split its royalties.

A fascinating feature of the exhibit is the timeline for the years 1981 to 1987, which shows key dates defining the early panic over the illness — such as in 1985, the same year Rock Hudson died and also when the first antibody tests began to be used, when the student Ryan White, a teenaged hemophiliac who contracted HIV from a contaminated blood treatment, was expelled from his Kokomo, Ind., middle school, though doctors insisted he posed no risk to other students.

The next year, as the exhibit shows, came the first drug treatment — AZT, a type of antiretroviral drug, originally marketed under the name Retrovir — that helps to slow the spread of HIV in the body but does not stop it entirely. Also in 1986 came the first official U.S. government policy document on HIV/AIDS, which advocated the use of condoms, infuriating the right wing. It was the landmark study by C. Everett Koop, the U.S. Surgeon General, of which a copy is on display in the exhibit.

But progress in understanding the disease came only in fits and starts, as the exhibit reveals, and key information sometimes lagged for years. Ott notes that for a long period “women with AIDS, who were predominantly poor and African American or Latina, were excluded from clinical tests, and that the official AIDS definition did not include diseases specific to women until 1994.”

The exhibit and its companion website are open to the public beginning today.

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Miscellaneous

The evolution of the open house

The more sophisticated the advertising, the more the events flourished

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From car giveaways in the 1950s to today’s QR codes and virtual events, agents have used diverse strategies to draw buyers to open houses.

In the early 20th century, there were no exclusive agreements between a seller and a real estate agent. Any broker who knew of someone wanting to sell could participate in an “open listing” by planting his sign in the yard of that person and competing with agents from other brokerages who did the same. To the victor who obtained a buyer went the spoils of commission.

The rules began to change in 1919, when being a real estate broker now required a license. An agent might handle only one property at a time exclusively, but an “open for inspection” period could be used to introduce a model home or new community to the buying population. 

According to the National Association of Realtors, Dallas homebuilder, Howdy Howard, hosted one of the most successful open houses of all time in the 1950s. During the first 12 days of the event, an estimated 100,000 people attended, drawn by free sodas and the ultimate prize for the buyer – a new Cadillac.

Soon, brokers began hiring additional agents who could handle multiple properties. Unlike Howard’s marathon open house, agents would now host them for a few hours at a time, usually on a Sunday, to whet the appetite of the buyer pool. 

Classified advertisements with a description of a property would be placed in a local newspaper and potential buyers would review them with their morning coffee to decide which houses to visit later in the day. 

Marketing in newspapers went from a few lines of black and white text to a photo of a home’s exterior, to a multi-page spread that included both photos of houses and the agents who represented them.

The more sophisticated the advertising became, the more the open house flourished as a marketing tool, not only for the home itself, but also for the agent and the brokerage. It allowed agents to prospect for buyers for that home and others, and converse with neighbors who might want to sell their homes as well. 

Soon, the sign-in sheet was born, used by the agent to capture the contact information of a potential client or customer and to let the seller know who had visited his home. While sign-in sheets or cards are still used, some agents have gravitated to electronic applications, using a tablet computer instead of paper for the same purpose.

Fast forward to the early 2000s in D.C., when open houses became the primary source of showing property. An agent would enter a property into the multiple listing service (MLS) on a Thursday, entertain no showings until Saturday, host an open house on Sunday afternoon, and call for offers either Sunday night or Monday. The open house allowed agents to send their buyers rather than accompany them and serve multiple clients at once.  

The delayed showing day strategy referenced above has since been supplanted by the MLS’s Coming Soon status. Agents can now email or text links to upcoming properties to their clients in advance of showing availability and the clients can view photos, read property descriptions and disclosures, and schedule future visits accordingly.

Enter COVID-19. Due to the proliferation of the virus and the subsequent lockdown, the real estate world had to accommodate new public health requirements. 

One of the first things to go was the open house. Even agent showings were constrained, with visitors limited to an agent plus two people and additional requirements for wearing masks and disposable shoe covers and gloves. 

Overlapping appointments were not allowed, showings were limited to 15 to 30 minutes, and bottles of hand sanitizer sprung up on kitchen counters everywhere.

Ultimately, technology and ingenuity provided new marketing avenues for agents that included 3-D virtual open houses, Facetime and Duo viewings, videos, property websites and QR codes. Many of these marketing techniques remain, even though traditional open houses are coming back post-lockdown.

But are they really necessary? Certainly not for all types of properties. 

I believe the days of using a public open house to procure a buyer are limited. Agent security has become a concern and the desire for in-person viewings during a specific day or time has waned. 

On the other hand, Internet marketing and social media have a much wider reach, so much so that some people now feel comfortable buying a home – probably the most expensive item they will ever purchase – without even stepping into it until after closing.

After all, if we can work in sweatpants or pajamas while Zooming corporate meetings, how can naked virtual reality house hunting be far behind?

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Miscellaneous

D.C. homebuyers face hyper competitive market

Sellers in driver’s seat as region faces record low inventory

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housing market, gay news, Washington Blade

With job growth rising during a period of aggressive government spending and historically low mortgage rates, the spring 2021 market sits at the lowest level of inventory since 1983.

Homebuyers in the D.C. area continue to face an incredibly competitive market. This is truly a seller’s market.

Lack of Inventory: Washington, D.C. has been in a gradually worsening housing shortage since the Great Recession. The area hasn’t had a six-month supply of homes for sale for almost 12 years. Now, we add a global pandemic that seriously altered what homeowners want out of their home, Wall Street on fire, and insanely low interest rates and we get a surge in motivated homebuyers.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the number of homes nationwide reached a record low in December 2020, with just 1.07 million properties on the market. The DC metro area is even worse off than the national average with only one month’s supply of homes. That means if new listings were completely dried up, there would be no homes available in four weeks. On average, D.C. homes have been selling within 11 days, which is 15 days faster than this time in 2020.

Seller’s Market: The time is now for Washington, D.C. homeowners to seriously consider selling their homes if they have played with the idea. Experts predict 2021 will be another strong housing market with an increase in demand from existing homebuyers in search of larger homes and buyers who delayed purchasing a home due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Zillow forecasts a nearly 30 percent annual growth in homes for sale in 2021. This would be the largest home sales growth since 1983. Zillow’s annual report stated, “Home price appreciation will reach its fastest pace since the Great Recession, as the inventory crunch continues to pit buyers against each other, competing for a scarce number of homes for sale.”

D.C.’s Current Market: According to the NAR, in March of 2021, D.C. home prices had increased 4.1% compared to March 2020, for a median price of $635,000. There were 1,004 homes sold in March 2021, an increase from 842 at this time last year.

We are seeing many homes receive multiple offers within just a few days in the D.C. area. The average home is selling a little above 1% of the listing price and many hot homes are seeing large bidding wars and selling for 3% or more above the listing price; 42.7% of D.C. homes sold above list price in March of 2021. That is a 13.4% increase from last year at this time. Active inventory for March of 2021 was 1,457 homes, down 9% from March 2020. March 2021 also saw 991 homes sell in the D.C. area, an increase of 31% from February of 2021. March 2021’s total homes sold had a 19% increase from March 2020.

Buying a Home: In the current seller’s market, buying a home can be like playing a chess match. You need to know the rules and be strategic. It can seem more like winning than purchasing a home right now. If you find a home you want to buy, chances are you won’t be the only one making an offer. It is a seller’s market everywhere in the country right now and D.C. is no different. Be sure you know what you qualify for and what you can afford.

Conclusion: The NAR and the Mortgage Bankers Association both project prices of existing homes to increase 5.9% in 2021. This may mean buyers will have to be more flexible than in the past. For example, making an offer contingent upon the sale of a current home may be harder than before. It’s also possible you will pay more than the list price. The D.C. real estate market is on fire and many homes are off the market within 24 hours of listing. For sellers, if you have been thinking of selling your home there is no better time than the present.

 

Khalil El-Ghoul is Principal Broker for Glass House Real Estate. Reach him at [email protected] or 571-235-4821. Glass House Real Estate is a modern, more affordable way to buy and sell a home in the D.C. Metro area. Learn more about what makes us different at glassshousere.com.

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Miscellaneous

Kick-ass crossovers

Still the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms

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crossovers, gay news, Washington Blade

Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Crossovers keep wending their way into our driveways—and our hearts. After overtaking sedans, station wagons and minivans as the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms, crossovers are now taking aim at the most quintessential of American rides: the muscle car. With naughty looks and hepped-up engines, the two dynamite crossovers below are sure to blow your mind—and just maybe your budget.

DODGE DURANGO SRT HELLCAT
$81,000
Mpg: 12 city/17 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.5 seconds

For more than 20 years, the Dodge Durango has been a solid if nondescript family hauler. But this year the automaker jazzed up its midsize crossover with brawnier styling and the latest tech toys. And for the first time, Dodge is offering a limited-edition Durango SRT Hellcat—a high-test model with the same hellacious Hemi V8 engine in the Challenger super coupe and Charger sport sedan. With 710 horsepower, this blazingly fast crossover can kick some serious ass, outrunning many a Ferrari and Lamborghini.

The upgraded suspension provides more dynamic handling and cornering, as well as selectable steering for better grip. For straight-line acceleration and to prevent nasty fish-tailing, I simply flipped the “launch control” toggle switch. The massive Brembo brakes also were stellar, with stop-on-a-dime performance and flaming red calipers on each wheel. Another plus: the iconic Hellcat exhaust rumble could be heard blocks away—music to the ears of any auto aficionado. As with all Durangos, this bruiser has best-in-class towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.

Inside, there’s plenty of space, including more room than expected for third-row passengers. The steering wheel, dash, and trim accents now have trendy Euro styling, though it’s more VW than upscale Audi. And you can opt for flashy seatbelts and premium seats in a color Dodge calls Demonic Red, along with black velour floor mats and a soft-touch headliner. Other features include heated/ventilated seats, a large 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone integration and the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices at once. Options include a 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and rear-seat entertainment with Blue-Ray player. Alas, this is a limited-edition model and all 2,000 of these speed demons quickly sold out months ago. But there’s still hope: Dodge allocated some of the racy Durangos to select dealerships, so you can call around to see if any are still available. And you can always try social media to find a lucky Durango Hellcat owner who just might be willing to sell this rollicking ride, if the price is right.

LAND ROVER DEFENDER X
$85,000
Mpg: 17 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds

For decades, both the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover have been ubiquitous in the United States. Not so the smaller and less ostentatious Defender, often seen as a work-horse vehicle in BritBox reruns or action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But last year the Defender returned to these shores after nearly a quarter-century hiatus.

Available in two- or four-door models, both Defenders start around $50,000. My test vehicle was the new top-of-the-line Defender X, which added—yikes!—another $35,000 to the sticker price. The look on these crossovers is boxy chic, which allows for a ginormous amount of headroom, legroom and cargo space. Land Rover also added extra stowage areas and cubby holes, as well as transom windows and a sliding panoramic sunroof to keep things airy. While the cabin may be sparse and full of solid plastics, the walnut trim on the center console and door panels is quite elegant.

Land Rovers have a somewhat infamous reputation for less-than-stellar electronics, but the 10-inch touchscreen was crystal clear and synced up seamlessly with the infotainment system. Tricked out with a jet-black roof, hood, and side cladding, the press vehicle I test drove was painted a haughty Eiger Gray Metallic. It also came with thick all-terrain tires, adding to a slightly menacing vibe. A full-size spare is conveniently mounted on the vertical tailgate, which swings completely open like a refrigerator door for easy access. The Defender X may not be as lightning quick as a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, but it’s still plenty fast. And this brute can tackle the toughest of terrains, thanks to locking differentials, hill-descent control and a standard air suspension that can raise the chassis 11.5 inches above the ground. Overall, the Defender X can’t quite hide its refined roots as a tony Land Rover. But as with the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, this burly crossover flexes some serious muscle.

Land Rover Defender X

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