Although its origins may be traced to an earlier date, June 5, 1981, marks the official beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta published their first report about people dying from what would, in 1982, come to be known as AIDS. Doctors in the United States first noticed HIV/AIDS among gay men, and the virus decimated the gay community. The crisis of losing so many men so quickly, combined with the lack of available resources, media coverage, and governmental attention, spurred efforts in the LGBTQ community to increase awareness of the disease, advocate for more AIDS research funding, and create service centers for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. AIDS activism would “impact the shape of LGBTQ movements in the decades to follow” (Stulberg, 45).
By 1983, the year when Alabama’s first AIDS diagnoses were reported, over 2,800 people nationwide were diagnosed with AIDS, and over a thousand had died. Birmingham AIDS Outreach formed in 1985 as Alabama’s first AIDS service organization. Three years later, West Alabama AIDS Outreach (WAAO) was launched at the Canterbury Episcopal Chapel and Student Center on The University of Alabama campus. Since incorporating as a non-profit agency in 1989, WAAO has worked to provide assistance and AIDS/HIV education in Tuscaloosa and nine other counties. Over the years, WAAO has sponsored numerous events in Tuscaloosa, such as displays of the national AIDS quilt, AIDS walks, theater performances, art auctions, and the city’s annual Bal Masque Mardi Gras celebration. Today, the WAAO organization is known as Five Horizons Health Services.