The revelation that Rock Hudson is suffering from AIDS -- most of whose victims are gay men -- has been greeted by Washington's gay community with a mixture of sympathy for the actor and optimism that public awareness of the disease will increase.
"If every cloud has a silver lining, then this one is that his celebrity is focusing more attention on AIDS," said Deacon Maccubbin, owner of Lambda Rising, the Dupont Circle bookstore specializing in books of interest to gays and lesbians. "Most people in this country don't know anyone with AIDS. It's someone over there," he added with a wave of his hand, sitting in his office above the store. "This brings it home, frankly."
Thursday's disclosure about Hudson startled his fans and spotlighted the usually fatal disease that affects mostly homosexual men and intravenous drug users. Hudson had gone to Paris reportedly to seek treatment for the disease, which scientists believe is spread by intimate sexual contact, contaminated hypodermic needles and blood transfusions. Hudson underwent heart bypass surgery four years ago, and has long been rumored to be gay.
For many gay men who have faced the possibility of contracting the disease -- they make up more than 70 percent of its victims -- yesterday's massive reaction has brought bitterness and some hope.
The public "is just recognizing that it can get to real people -- like Rock Hudson," said Kent Fordyce, book buyer for Lambda Rising. "You have to remember that in the gay community, people have had friends dying for two years from a disease that's been considered to be of epidemic proportions and we've never been able to get this media. But it takes one movie star to let the public know it's not going to be just your local pansy or hairdresser."
The bookstore, according to Fordyce, has been doing a brisk business in the books they carry on AIDS.
Gays yesterday also said they had grown weary of bearing most of the burden of fund raising for research on the disease, and bearing most of the abuse that the public aims at AIDS sufferers.
"I live in Logan Circle," said 29-year-old Jeff DeMontier, "and have to deal with the prostitutes daily, and it's always, 'Oh, you fag -- you give AIDS.' "
Said Maccubbin, who is also cochair of the Gay Rights National Lobby, "The gay community is the segment of society which has done the most in education about AIDS, raising money, giving help to people with AIDS -- but we don't consider it a gay disease. Hopefully Rock Hudson's friendship with President and Mrs. Reagan will do something to help move support for AIDS help."
Maccubbin criticized the Reagan administration's lack of support on dealing with the AIDS epidemic. " Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler has done far too little. Ronald Reagan has so far not uttered the word AIDS in public."
The news of Hudson's illness has been a major topic of discussion in gay and straight circles, and in the places where the circles intersect:
"I'm a hairdresser, and all they did was talk about it all day in the shop," said 33-year-old Michael Hogan over a drink at Rascals, the predominantly gay watering spot in Dupont Circle. "Of course, they come right over to me. Wonder why?" He laughed. " 'Isn't it a shame? I didn't know he was gay.' They were shocked."
Since Hudson's illness was revealed, there have been widely circulating reports about the actor's homosexuality. The San Francisco Chronicle this week printed a story saying that it was known in San Francisco that Hudson was gay. Members of the gay community here said they were not surprised by those reports.
"That story in the Chronicle," said James Moore, having a drink at Rascals. "That was for straights."
"It's always been known that he's gay," said Fordyce. "J. Edgar Hoover once said he wished that he had the information network the gay community had."
"It took him long enough," said makeup artist Bill Cheseldine, browsing through Lambda Rising. "It's a hell of a way to come out. I feel for him, but he could have done a lot more for the community."
"He could have been a nice positive role model for gays," added saleswoman Susie Crawford. "Many people admire him . . .He had to get AIDS for this to come out."
"If he tries to say he got it from the blood transfusion," said Tom Ziolkowski, sitting in Mr. P's, referring to Hudson's heart bypass operation four years ago, "he'll do an immense disservice to himself and the community."
But one 50-year-old gay, who said he has worked in the entertainment business and has never publicly revealed his homosexuality, defended the lack of disclosure by a Hollywood figure of Hudson's generation.
"This is a terribly different time than 30 years ago," said the man at Mr. P's, a gay bar at 21st and P streets. "Everybody adored that man in Hollywood and protected him. I took care of a friend of mine who was dying of AIDS and when I saw Hudson on 'Dynasty' I thought, 'He has AIDS.' And when I heard yesterday, my heart bled for him . . .I think he's damn courageous just to say it.
"He could have covered it up, said it was cancer . . .Even today, people, politicians don't come out. They might lose two-thirds of their business. You say you're a fag and you're finished."
And other gays said the issue of Hudson's sexuality should not obscure the issue of trying to cure a deadly, spreading disease.
"Is he homosexual or not? So what?" said Ariel Febles, shopping at Lambda Rising. "The fact is that the man is dying of something that can affect everyone. Society in general is so promiscuous that we're all going to end up with AIDS in a few years."
There was general approval that he didn't cover up the nature of the illness.
"I'm glad he's letting it out that it's not just a liver ailment," said Fordyce.
"Not many people know people with AIDS," said Moore, who is a waiter. "Even gay people. I've waited on people with AIDS. It's scary."
"When the straight population gets scared enough," said Cliff Wilkow, sitting at the bar at Mr. P's, "they'll start clamoring."
"What do you mean the straight population?" responded Ziolkowski. "Half the gay population pretends it doesn't exist."
In New York City, where one-third of all AIDS cases in the country have been reported, local hotlines said that calls were coming in at record levels yesterday. From taxi drivers to the health commissioner, the fact that a celebrity has the disease has put a spotlight on an illness that has become the city's leading killer of young white men.
"All of a sudden there is a disease called AIDS," said Richard Dunne, the executive director of the three-year-old Gay Mens Health Crisis (GMHC), a leading AIDS information and counseling organization. "For the first time since this nightmare started, wire service reporters called me today. I feel horribly for Rock Hudson, but even more horribly that it took him to make people realize that people are being wiped out."
"I know that from a public relations standpoint we desperately need a Rock Hudson to have AIDS," said Rodger McFarlane, who has recently left GMHC, "But it makes me sick to have to say that. Where has everyone been while this city has been hit by a wave of death and fear? If Rock Hudson can become the Betty Ford of AIDS it can only help us. But we are now four years into this epidemic and it's getting late to just have noticed it."
Said David J. Sencer, the city Health Commissioner, "We have said for a long time that all the issues associated with AIDS are profoundly important and dangerous. This should focus our attention on the illness. What we cannot do in the coming years is lose sight of AIDS as a major public health emergency."
Hudson's condition "remained stable" yesterday, the American Hospital announced. The 59-year-old movie star, who was admitted Sunday to the hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly after collapsing in the Ritz Hotel, was reported to be gaining strength and eating solid food. "He is eating. He is talking and laughing," a spokeswoman said.
In Manhattan, a cab driver lamented, "Can you believe this stuff about Rock Hudson? I just can't believe it. Who would have ever thought that a disease like AIDs could hit him? I mean we all thought he was your average American Joe."