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AIDS Activist Chronicles His Journey Through Life With HIV

Mark S. King, 62, is not afraid to share his story

Video: HIV/AIDS Activist Recalls His Fight for Life

Mark S. King has spent most of his years recounting living with HIV. The Atlanta resident was diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus at 24, during the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1985. Now 62, he’s lived longer with HIV than without.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the first cases of what was to be called AIDS were reported in the United States in June 1981. Nearly 1.2 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV at the end of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“I am a 62-year-old who is navigating the perils of aging, who is in love and who has a history that is the journey of HIV,” King said.

Friends told King not to get tested because there wasn’t a single drug to treat HIV and the repercussions seemed dire — loss of job, disowning by family and loss of housing. He was sneaked into a doctor’s office after hours to be tested, “because you didn’t want that test to show up on your medical records. We were afraid of losing insurance just for taking the test.”

He saw the test results as something that could tell him whether he’d be alive in a couple of years.

“[He] had told me he said, ‘I knew I was going to be HIV positive before I even took the test,’ ” said Charles Green, King’s longtime friend.

Instead of going “inward” as Green said most gay men at the time did, King got to work.

spinner image left mark king younger right mark king now post h i v diagnosis
After his diagnosis, King became an activist and talked about the latest developments with the disease.
Courtesy Mark S. King

“We started organizations,” King said. “We started support groups. We told the [National Institutes of Health] that they better get on it and start doing faster clinical trials of drugs ’cause we didn’t have four years to wait while something went through their pipeline.”

King eventually put his experiences in writing. “I was the guy that would speak as a person living with HIV about the latest development. As those years went on, I started writing columns about living with HIV. I realized that I was here to chronicle in real time what’s happening.”

He said he didn’t make plans, create a retirement account, or think about his career. It wasn’t until 1996, he said, that effective medication arrived and there was no longer the expectation of death. He could have stopped chronicling his HIV journey, but he decided to continue.

“After some thought, I guess I just realized I want to keep writing about this,” King said. “I want there to be a throughline, at least one that I’ve contributed, of what happened.”

With that in mind, he created My Fabulous Disease, a blog that “is all about the people that inspire me in this world of HIV,” King said. In 2020, GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy organization, recognized it for outstanding blog.

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After so many years believing he had an infinitesimal amount of time to live, he now feels like there are opportunities he hadn’t expected.

spinner image mark king sixty two is an h i v activist who has been living with h i v since he was twenty four
“I am a 62-year-old who is navigating the perils of aging, who is in love and who has a history that is the journey of HIV,” King says.
Courtesy Mark S. King

He married Michael Mitchell in 2015 and they are renovating their home.

“I feel as if, at the ripe age of 62 … it went like that again,” King said opening his hands to show the range of possibilities.

“I think I will devote the rest of this opened-up life to continuing to tell the story but also, more and more, I’m taking time back for me, for my life, for my marriage, for my home.”

King has a book coming out in September that is a collection of his essays over the past four decades. The title builds on his blog: My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor.

While the work to eliminate HIV and AIDS is not done, King wants younger members of the LGBTQ+ community to recognize the work of the elders in the community.

“I want young LGBT people to know this is your history,” King said. “Activism, AIDS activism, changed the way that drugs are approved in this country. Fast track, COVID, those drugs, you can thank an AIDS activist. … Your people did this.”

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