Ron Taylor

ron taylor

Ron Taylor was motivated to become active in LGBTQ issues for reasons that are familiar to so many of us. In 1973, his partner died and the family wanted nothing to do with Ron. They swept into their house and took everything that had ever been purchased on his partner’s credit cards. For Ron, it was a dehumanizing moment. “This can’t go on,” Ron remembers thinking. “I need to get more politically involved.”

Part of that activism included getting involved in the anti-Briggs Initiative in 1978. Briggs had collected signatures to place an item on the California ballot to prohibit gays from teaching in public schools. The initiative was defeated, which was a great triumph. But optimism about the future of the gay movement was short lived with the rise of the Moral Majority and referenda in San Jose and Santa Clara County that overturned local gay rights ordinances in 1980. Even though he found the backlash demoralizing, he knew he couldn’t give up. “I just had to keep on fighting,” he said.

Ron became active with DIGNITY, the outreach and support group for gay Catholics. He also advised the diocese of San Jose on how to minister to the LGBTQ community, as well as to how to respond to health issues like AIDS. Ron had been strongly influenced by Vatican II and devoted much of his spare time trying to reconcile his Catholic faith with his life as a gay man.

Ron met Rick Rudy when High Tech Gays was just forming. He was active with HTG and often hosted the monthly Sunday potluck meetings at his house, before membership became so large that it needed to move to the Billy DeFrank Center. It was around this time that Ken Yeager attended one of these meetings at Ron’s house. The size of the crowd gave him the confidence that there were enough politically active gays and lesbians in San Jose to make an organization like BAYMEC successful.

By the mid-1980s, the AIDS epidemic began to consume much of Ron’s time. He became a training coordinator for ARIS, a support group for AIDS patients and their families. He served as one of the original members of the county’s AIDS Task Force.

Ron worked for the California Youth Authority for many years as a parole agent until his retirement.

Bob Clayton

bob clayton profile

James Robert Clayton, known to everyone as Bob, was born in 1934. He was working for the Social Services Agency in 1981 when a man seeking help walked into his office suffering from a new and unknown malady. The man was one of the first county residents with AIDS. For the rest of his life, Clayton would be at the forefront of the Santa Clara County effort to deal with the disease and care for its patients.

In 1985, Clayton opened his home as the first AIDS residence in the county. In March of that year he helped form a weekly support group for AIDS patients that initially called itself “Freedom from Fear.” By January 1986, that group had incorporated as a nonprofit and become the Aris Project.

In 1994, Clayton received national recognition when he was presented with the Family AIDS Network’s National AIDS Caregiver Award. His nomination announcement noted that “Bob cries easily, never afraid to share his grief with other caregivers. Yet, he talks about the pain he carries each day as a ‘small price to pay’ for the rewards he has found reaching out to other people in need. Bob talks about each of the people he has been a caregiver for as a proud parent talks about their child- with love and unconditional acceptance.”

One of the highlights of his life came in 1996 when he carried the Olympic torch in San Jose as it made its way to Atlanta.

At the time of his death in 2003, Clayton was serving as interim director of ARIS.

The ARIS Project


The AIDS Resources, Information & Services (ARIS) Foundation formed in 1986 to provide information, resources, and support for AIDS & HIV positive patients in Santa Clara County. ARIS supplied assistance to patients through a monthly food basket and nutritional supplements program, a 24-hour residential care facility, transportation services, and weekly emotional support groups. ARIS offered a housing program for the HIV and AIDS patients who needed assistance: they had 4 houses and 18 bedrooms for patients with regularly scheduled visiting nurses.

ARIS’s newsletter, Pages, shared several times a year. Many back issues have been preserved in the ARIS collection archive at San Jose State University.

ARIS was working closely with the Public Health Department to create public education programs to end the stigmatization of HIV & AIDS, as well as a sex education program to prevent the spread of HIV. The foundation shut down in 2003. Read more about the organization in Battle Against HIV/AIDS (PDF).

Battle Against HIV/AIDS

battle hiv aids booklet

On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s newsletter Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published a story about five young, previously healthy gay men who had come down with a rare lung infection, pneumocystis pneumonia. This was the first public mention of what the CDC would name in just over a year the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The AIDS epidemic had begun in the United States.

Karl Vidt, who became a prominent local HIV/AIDS advocate—including a multi-year term as chair of the Santa Clara County World AIDS Day committee—said that during 1981-82 people in Santa Clara County thought AIDS was “something affecting people in San Francisco.”

A crisis emerges

In 1983 that attitude changed rapidly. AIDS arrived in Santa Clara County with the first diagnosis being confirmed by the public health department in April. The first signs of AIDS-related fear followed shortly afterwards.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s AIDS Program was formed in 1983 to conduct community education. Utilizing a small grant from the state, the team began to educate people in jails, gay bars, and elsewhere. They also distributed condoms. In November, Santa Clara County obtained its first state funding for AIDS.

In 1985, the first HIV tests became available and the Public Health Department opened Santa Clara County’s first HIV clinic. Numbers were climbing: 53 deaths, 148 people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib took on the difficult role of telling people they were HIV positive. In a 2012 San Jose Business Journal interview, he recalled the reactions of those earliest patients, “They would run out, bang doors, sometimes they’d cry, sometimes they’d scream. It was horrible.”

In January 1986, BAYMEC, led by BAYMEC co-founder Ken Yeager, successfully secured the support of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to make a substantial commitment to funding AIDS-related services. Even as the County was facing tight budget times, they were committing critical dollars to AIDS services. Yeager was also named chair on the new Santa Clara County AIDS Task Force. The epidemic, and the lack of an adequate government response to it, was becoming the dominant issue in the LGBTQ community.

Life expectancy from diagnosis to death was around two years. People got sick and died very fast. Tens of thousands of families learned for the first time that their sons were gay only after they became sick. Often parents had to simultaneously come to grips with their son’s sexuality and their deaths.

The total death count continued to climb from 1986 to 1990: 96, 172, 265, 296, 433.

As the 1980s came to a close, the death toll from AIDS continued to rise, reaching 124 new deaths in Santa Clara County in 1989. By 1990, total deaths reached 433 with more than a thousand people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dark times

The early 1990s were some of the darkest times of the AIDS epidemic. Death tolls continued to increase locally and nationally. 1993 and 1994 were the years of highest deaths in Santa Clara County: 219 in 1993 and 220 in 1994.

AIDS patients continued to die at a rapid pace. At the end of 1994, the Public Health Department produced an analysis of the first 10 years of the epidemic in the county. It revealed that through 1990 more than 90% of individuals diagnosed with AIDS had died within the same year. In both 1983 and 1986, every single individual in Santa Clara County died the same year they were diagnosed with AIDS.

Thankfully, 1995 would bring some hope for HIV/AIDS sufferers. A medical breakthrough, whose impact continues to be felt today, dramatically transformed an AIDS diagnosis from a likely death sentence to a serious but manageable health condition.

Finally, a breakthrough

Public pressure and the growing death toll from AIDS led the Food and Drug Administration to approve the protease inhibitor Saquinavir for use outside of clinical trials in June 1995. The era of the AIDS cocktail had begun. It would not become widely used in the U.S. until 1996, but the earliest results were extremely promising.

By 1997 the full effects of the “cocktail” were becoming apparent to public health officials in Santa Clara County as the year-end statistics showed that only 67 people died of AIDS-related causes. That is a drop of almost 50% compared to the previous year.

Almost overnight, HIV/AIDS went from being a near-certain death sentence to a manageable health condition if diagnosed and treated. This change was extremely welcome after more than a decade of darkness, when friends and loved ones got sick, wasted away, and then died with blinding speed.

From 1984 when the first AIDS deaths were reported in the county to the end of 2017, there had been a total of 2,498 deaths from AIDS. A tragic loss.

While HIV/AIDS has been a treatable condition for almost a quarter-century, it is still a health crisis that impacts thousands in our community.

African-American and Hispanic residents continue to be disproportionately impacted, with rates among African-Americans more than four times higher than rates among non-Hispanic Whites.

We have come so far since those early dark days. But much work still needs to be done.

For help with HIV/AIDS or to volunteer, visit