David Kirby (Dec 6, 1957-May 5, 1990) was 32 when he died at Pater Noster House, an AIDS hospice in Columbus Ohio. This photo was taken by Theresa Frare, a journalism student at Ohio University. Peta, the half-Sioux, half-white, transgendered volunteer who cared for Kirby, is standing on the left. The gender rebel continued working with dying AIDS patients until his own condition worsened in 1991. Peta died of AIDS-related illness in 1992.
Kirby was born and raised in a small town in Ohio. As a gay teenager in the 1970s, he found life in the Midwest difficult. A gay activist in the 1980s, he learned in the late Eighties — while he was living in California and estranged from his family — that he had contracted HIV. He got in touch with his parents and asked if he could come home; he wanted, he said, to die with his family around him.
In November 1990 LIFE Magazine published Frare’s image. That year, Bush signed two pieces of legislation that helped people with AIDS — including the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which provided funding for AIDS treatment. But during Bush's time in office, the AIDS epidemic grew dramatically. By 1992, the disease had become the number one cause of death for US men aged 25 to 44. That same year, the Kirby family allowed Frare’s photo to be used in an ad campaign by Benetton.
Despite a backlash by many AIDS activists, Kirby’s father Bill stated, “If that photograph helps someone…then it’s worth whatever pressure we have to go through.” That angels like Peta exist, sent to us in our time of need, fills me with hope. It resonates with me today on an even deeper level because I now live in Columbus, Ohio. I am grateful to Kirby and other AIDS activists who fought to demystify the illness in a climate of fear and superstition. To me, Peta and David are heroes. They may be gone, but thanks to Frare, their stories live on.