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Bobbi Campbell
(1952 - 1984) U.S.A.

Bobbi Campbell

Activist

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Bobbi Campbell (a.k.a. Sister Florence Nightmare, RN) was the sixteenth resident of San Francisco to be diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma. He was the first person to come out publicly as living with what later would be known as AIDS, as a People With Aids (PWA). He was one of the U.S.'s first AIDS activists; self-described "AIDS poster boy" because he was so active in raising awareness for people with AIDS.

Bobbi Campbell
"AIDS POSTER BOY", Bobbi Campbell (January 28, 1952 - August 15, 1984), International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 26, 1983. Photo by Roger Ressmeyer, © Corbis.

Bobbi, a registered nurse and an early member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, helped lay the groundwork for future AIDS activism by mixing the presentation of medical evidence with the consciousness- and visibility-raising tactics of the gay liberation movement.

At the beginning of 1982, Bobbi began an important column in the San Francisco Sentinel that explained what he was going through and offered recommendations for others. Dan Turner was diagnosed in February 1982. Dr. Marcus Conant suggested that Bobbi and Dan get together to share their experiences. They met at Dan's house in the Castro hills. The seed of what was to become People With AIDS San Francisco - indeed, the concept of PWA self-empowerment itself, had been planted. Dan remembered clearly that Bobbi prominently sported a button with a simple but powerful message: "Survive."

Cleve Jones asked Dan to speak at Harvey Milk's birthday party. Castro Street was closed off and Dan gave his first speech as a publicly-identified PWA. His message contained three points: "Stay informed. Be cautious, but not paranoid. And be supportive." The crowd cheered when Dan announced that he had just run a marathon after completing nine chemotherapy treatments. This was the beginning of many public speaking engagements for Dan and Bobbi.

Two important events took place at about the same time. Dr. Conant and Dr. Paul Volberding had requested that Bobbi and Dan attend what proved to be the founding meeting of the KS/AIDS Foundation in San Francisco. (The KS/AIDS Foundation had grown out of the AIDS Hotline founded by Cleve Jones and Dr. Conant.)

Shortly thereafter, Bobbi and Dan invited a few other people with AIDS to attend a meeting of what became People With AIDS San Francisco, the first organization of, for, and by people with AIDS (and ARC). In the early days, Dan, Bobbi and a few others became "star cases," called upon by doctors and the media to do many public speaking engagements. Out of this grew the important notion that PWAs should be an integral part of AIDS service organizations.

As a result, People With AIDS San Francisco was asked to choose which PWAs should be on which boards. Bobbi Campbell was added to the KS/AIDS Foundation's national Board of Directors and Dan Turner was elected to the San Francisco KS/AIDS Foundation Board. Bobby Reynolds, who had temporarily dropped out of the early PWA San Francisco group, was eventually added to the board of the Shanti Project.

On August 8, 1983, Newsweek ran its second cover story on the AIDS epidemic. While the magazine set a high standard for early AIDS reporting with its first cover story on the subject, by August that journalistic care was replaced with an eye toward selling magazines, and moralism was on full display: "A turning point has been reached, and AIDS may mean the party is over".

Bobbi Campbell
"GAY AMERICA: Sex, Politics and the Impact of AIDS",
Bobbi Campbell (left), and Bobby Hilliard (right) on the cover of Newsweek, August 8, 1983.

On May 2, 1983, the first of many candlelight marches, led and organized by people with AIDS, took place. The goal of the march was to bring attention to the plight of People With AIDS and to remember those who had died. PWAs who organized the march included Gary Walsh, Mark Feldman, Chuck Morris, and Bobbi Campbell (who, according to Dan Turner's diary, gave the "Hope" speech). This march was the first time PWAs marched behind a banner proclaiming what was to become the motto of the PWA self-empowerment movement: "Fighting For Our Lives."

On May 23rd, People With AIDS San Francisco met and voted to send Dan Turner and Bobbi Campbell to a conference in Denver in June 1983. This momentous meeting provided the spark for what was to become the PWA self-empowerment movement. The "Fighting For Our Lives" banner made its way to Denver for the Fifth National Lesbian/Gay Health Conference, which included the Second National Forum on AIDS and the First National American Association of Physicians For Human Rights (AAPHR) Symposium. It was at this historic gathering that the founding of the national PWA movement occurred and the banner was used in the presentation of the "Denver principles."

The 1984 Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day celebrations would be Campbell's last. Bobbi Campbell died AIDS-related illness the following August; he was thirty-two.

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