Paul Scott

In 1983, the University of California, San Francisco physicians opened the country’s first outpatient AIDS ward in January and an inpatient AIDS ward in July at San Francisco General Hospital. The staff developed the San Francisco model of AIDS care in both locations. The model focused not only on the health of each patient but also on their well-being.

Three hundred and eighty miles away in Los Angeles, Paul Scott received a job transfer from the navy as a medical corpsman, the equivalent of a physician assistant, to work as a nurse at AIDS wards, including West Angeles Hospital and UCLA Medical Center. By 1987, 32,000 people tested positive for HIV in the U.S. More than 50% of them died.

“In the early days of HIV, AIDS patients were placed in isolation,” Paul stated. “The nurses didn’t want to touch them. Because no one knew what AIDS was then. It was like the early days of covid. Out of nowhere, healthy white men were dying.”

HIV replaced unintentional injuries as the primary cause of death among Americans from 25 to 44 in the early 1990s. Traumatized by his experience working in AIDS wards, Paul returned to college, then transitioned from nursing to engineering and worked for an elevator company in the mid-90s. While working for the elevator company, he learned that high-rise buildings started bolting doors accessing rooftops because people who contracted HIV were jumping off. He thought he would die after testing positive, but not without fighting.

Paul continued, “I did not have insurance and went to see a physician in San Francisco. He put me on experimental medication. The side effects were so significant that you couldn’t keep a job. The AZT. The Sustiva. All of those early medications were as toxic as the disease.”

To alleviate the pain, Paul smoked medical marijuana and, eventually, opened a medical cannabis clinic in Inglewood on Market Street to help Black and brown people who were chronically ill. The intersection of AIDS activism and the legalization of cannabis has deep roots in California. With the help of cannabis activists, cannabis has been decriminalized and legalized in various states.

After his diagnosis, staff at Minority AIDS Project and Unity Fellowship Church wrapped their arms around him when the world would not. He leaned on Jeffrey King, Reverend Freda Lanoix, Phil Wilson, Kevin Spears, Archbishop Carl Bean, and many others for support. They became his family. AIDS is considered the second closet for the LGBTQ+ community. When he came out to his biological family, they abandoned him and bolted the door behind them, leaving no room to negotiate.

One of his fondest memories during that time is attending worship service at Unity Fellowship Church.

“As a non-religious person, it was like going to Catch One nightclub. It was festive. It wasn’t about religion. It was about spirit. It was about people. It was affirming in terms of culture. It was wholesome. The movement provided validation and acceptance. We bore witness to HIV/AIDS.”

Between 2002-2008, he served on Los Angeles County’s Commission for HIV, helping to allocate federal funds to provide wellness services to the Black community.

Regarding the present and future of AIDS, Paul stated, “the difference between activists during the 80s and 90s versus the activists of today. When we were dying of AIDS, we fought back, we pushed back, we wore ribbons. We reminded people this was not the way we wanted to go out. Now, AIDS is killing and affecting as many, if not more, of us. I see silence. The business apparatus around AIDS and the people it affects, doesn’t necessitate a cure for it.”

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