The Menlo Roundtable

Bobbi Campbell: “AIDS Poster Boy” & “Aids Activist Boy”

When people think of AIDS activists they often think of prominent figures like Larry Kramer or Peter Staley, not Bobbi Campbell. But Bobbi Campbell deserves to be on that list of crucial activists who made a significant impact on the AIDS movement.

In 1981, Bobbi Campbell became the 16th person in San Francisco diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS) and the first person to come out having AIDS publicly. He soon became the face of the AIDS epidemic as the “AIDS Poster Boy,” yet his impact has not been analyzed deeply and his legacy has not been honored widely. Despite minimal recognition, Bobbi Campbell contributed greatly to the AIDS movement. Furthermore, the effect of his actions far exceeded his expectations. Throughout his life, up until the point when he died of AIDS in 1984, Campbell chronicled his experiences in his diary. Campbell’s rhetoric in his diary, as well as interviews and speeches, reflects his pride and disbelief in the extent of his influence on the AIDS movement. While Campbell’s rhetoric was often scattered and sometimes uninspiring, his actions helped lead the nation towards greater open-mindedness regarding AIDS and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Ultimately, Campbell’s meager expectations benefited him because they did not undercut his braveness and allowed him to express audacity that was unparalleled at the time. Campbell’s ability to act boldly and shamelessly allowed him to shift the accepted social ideologies and positively impact the AIDS movement.