AIDS Comes to a Small Town
Watch Mike tell Oprah his story in his own words.
Mike says that when he went swimming at the Williamson pool, the lifeguard was the first person to recognize him, but soon the other bathers did as well. "They kind of ran like in those science fiction movies where Godzilla walks into the street."
This wasn't the first time the community had reacted negatively to seeing Mike in public. He says he returned to Williamson after contracting AIDS while living in Dallas. He says his illness quickly became known in the community through the whispers of small-town gossip.
Williamson residents were not alone in their incorrect fears that AIDS can spread through casual contact—through sweat or saliva, from kissing, in swimming pools and even on doorknobs.
When a job offer in Dallas arose, Mike says he knew it was time to leave home to get away from the homophobic harassment he experienced in Williamson. When he returned home after contracting AIDS, he says the negative reaction he received from his neighbors picked up right where it left off. "I was dying, and I thought they could overlook the fact that I am a homosexual and see that I needed some compassion and to be in my hometown," Mike says. "[I felt] anger at first because I couldn't understand why."
Even some of Mike's own relatives shunned him—a "No trespassing" sign was installed on an family member's lawn.
Read what happens when Oprah returns to Williamson in 2010 and talks to Mike's sisters.
"Mike had a choice," one man says. "He shirked his responsibility as a man. And when he did that, he gave up his choice."
"We have children. We don't want them contracting AIDS. When he publicly went in a swimming pool knowing he had AIDS, why did he do it? My child was there; a lot of other children were there," one woman says. "The doctors can say you can't get it this way, but what if they come back someday and say, 'We were wrong?' I don't know if you can or you can't [get AIDS from a swimming pool]. I just don't think he should have endangered the lives of the people that were there."
"If the community knows that a person has the virus, then I feel they shouldn't shun him. They can speak to him, but they don't have to go and have sex with him and they don't have to drink after him or anything like that," one woman says. "They can speak to him and not shun him and put him in a closet like they did back in the old times."
"I really feel like there should be some type of center set up for the AIDS victims. A lot of the AIDS victims are out on the streets. It could be their choice if they would like to go to that center. They would have someone with the same problem that they could speak with, so they could go to the center if they would like to," another woman says. "He shouldn't be treated the way he's being treated. That's not fair."
Watch as residents react to Dr. Myers.
Some want to know if it would be possible to contract AIDS through urine if Mike urinated in the pool. "Urine is a body fluid, and there have been small, small numbers of the AIDS virus found in urine. But that's not the way this disease is transmitted," Dr. Myers says. "We know for a fact that all of the cases that we have seen thus far have been transmitted in very definite ways. None of those ways have included touching a doorknob or being in the swimming pool or touching the AIDS patient him- or herself. That is not the way we have seen it transmitted."
See what happens when Oprah returns to Williamson 23 years later.