The AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco: The Response of Community Physicians, 1981-1984, Vol. I

Interview History--Richard L. Andrews, M.D.

Richard L. Andrews is a psychiatrist who until his retirement had a private psychiatric practice consisting largely of gay men. He also served as consultant in psychiatry for the Children's Home Society of California and the Social Security Administration in San Francisco. However, Dr. Andrews was not interviewed for this oral history series because of these professional positions but rather because of his significant role as a physician and member of Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, a gay physicians organization, in several seminal events of the early AIDS epidemic.

Andrews sets the scene for the recognition in 1981 of the new disease by recalling in the oral history the increasing activism of San Francisco's gay community in the 1970s, fueled among other factors by the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights figures prominently in this story, as it does in most of the interviews in this series with physicians with private medical practices serving gay men. Particularly in the early years of the epidemic, before many other AIDS organizations in the community were up and running, BAPHR represented the medical voice of the gay community in San Francisco. Andrews as thrice president and concerned physician was thrown into the major controversies that swirled around the city in the early years of the epidemic.

Also a master of interpersonal relations, Andrews acted as the human and humane element, the facilitator, in several tough interactions. Most searing to him personally was his experience in the inflamed debate over closure of the San Francisco bathhouses. The debate rent the gay community, some, including Andrews, seeing the baths as locations tempting men to engage in unsafe sexual practices and thereby increasing chances of AIDS transmission. Others, including some of Andrews' physician colleagues in BAPHR, regarded the baths as symbolic of the gay community's hard-won civil liberties and opposed their closure on that basis. As a member of health department Mervyn Silverman's AIDS advisory committee, Andrews was in the thick of it, feeling pilloried by both sides:

The ones that wanted closure thought we [on the advisory committee] were cowards. The ones that didn't want closure thought we were traitors because we even suggested [closure] in the first place, even though we backed down from it.

As he recounts in the interviews, Andrews to this day regrets what he feels to have been his personal failure to achieve the middle ground: allowing the baths to remain open but using them as sites for a concerted effort of safer sex education.

Andrews also provides an insider's insight into other issues troubling the gay community--safer sex guidelines, blood donation, antibody testing--all of which caused him and his medical colleagues immense personal and professional turmoil. But he also tells of a few triumphs. One is the thrilling occasion when straight physicians attending the Sixth International AIDS Conference in San Francisco spontaneously joined the simultaneously occurring Gay Pride Day Parade and marched behind the BAPHR banner.

The Oral History Process

Two interviews were conducted, on April 12 and 19, 1996, in the attractive basement office of Dr. Andrews' home in San Francisco. As a result of an initial telephone conversation, he had directed me to a collection of The BAPHRON, BAPHR'S newsletter, housed in the UCSF Library. He also arranged for me to review documents in the BAPHR office in the Castro District. A good number of my questions for him stemmed from this research. Dr. Andrews was an affable and informative subject, his comments often revealing his interest, not surprising for a psychiatrist, in interpersonal relationships. He edited the interview transcripts assiduously, omitting some sections and in several cases writing material afresh. These additions, seven in all, were inserted in the transcripts at points which he specified.

These interviews reveal the accomplishments of and personal toll on a warm and humane individual who chose, despite sometimes hostile audiences, to take a public and controversial stand on key issues of the early AIDS epidemic.

The Regional Oral History Office was established in 1954 to augment through tape-recorded memoirs the Library's materials on the history of California and the West. Copies of all interviews are available for research use in The Bancroft Library and in the UCLA Department of Special Collections. The office is under the direction of Willa K. Baum, Division Head, and the administrative direction of Charles B. Faulhaber, James D. Hart Director of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Sally Smith Hughes
Research Historian and Principal Editor
October 1999

Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley

About this text
Courtesy of Regional Oral History Office, University of California, Berkeley
Title: The AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco: The Response of Community Physicians, 1981-1984, Vol. I
By:  Sally Smith Hughes
Date: 1996
Contributing Institution: Regional Oral History Office, University of California, Berkeley
Copyright Note: Copyright status unknown. Some materials in these collections may be - protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the - reproduction, and/or commercial use, of some materials may be restricted - by gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and - publicity rights, licensing agreements, and/or trademark rights. - Distribution or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond - that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the - copyright owners. To the extent that restrictions other than copyright - apply, permission for distribution or reproduction from the applicable - rights holder is also required. Responsibility for obtaining - permissions, and for any use rests exclusively with the user.