David Lawrence Kirby was an HIV/AIDS activist, and the subject of the photographs taken on his deathbed by Therese Frare. These photographs were later published by Life magazine and went on to become the “pictures that changed the face of AIDS”.
David was born in 1957 in a small town of Ohio. He soon discovered that he’s gay and moved out of Ohio when he faced the negativity of his family after he came out. David moved to West Coast and settled in the “gay scene” of Los Angeles.
David, before AIDS took a toll on him.
David went on to become a gay activist and started raising awareness about homosexuality. Unfortunately, Kirby succumbed to the burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic at the Los Angeles gay scene where it a norm to have multiple partners in a quick succession and protection was mostly not used.
Nobody knows when and how David got affected. He was diagnosed in 1987 at the age of 29. AIDS was considered nothing short of a death sentence. David then decided to spend the rest of his days as an AIDS activist. He then asked his family to come by and see him.
David at the medical center.
By 1989 Kirby’s condition worsened. He was moved to Pater Noster Aids Hospice in Columbus, Ohio. A transsexual HIV positive caregiver who went by the name Peta took care of Kirby. They went on to become close friends.
Peta attending David.
Kirby’s condition worsened by the winter of 1990. Peta started bringing along a friend, Therese Frare who happened to be a journalism student who then started documenting David’s condition. However, David had put a condition that Frare would not use the photographs for personal profiteering.
The last photograph captured by Frare was of David staring into space while his father held him and his mother and sister clinging by each other.
A nurse holding David's hand at the Ohio center not long before he died.
David in his breathing his last.
LIFE magazine ran the story in it November 1990 issue.
Peta, David's father and sister in David's final moments.
Kirby’s family took to taking care of Peta after David’s death. The transgender caretaker died in 1992 of AIDS related illness.
Peta with David's parents.
Title image: lowellmilkencenter.org