ALLENTOWN, Pa. - These days it's hard to go a day without being reminded we're living through a global pandemic.
40 years ago, many people were going through a similar experience, but with HIV/AIDS. In 1981, most people in the Lehigh Valley had only read about HIV/AIDS.
"A lot of gay people at first in the Lehigh Valley thought, 'well this is a New York thing, this is a San Francisco thing, this can't really be about us, we are not that big of a gay community,'" said journalist and historian Frank Whelan.
Whelan says that would soon change when Brian Foley came out as the first local case.
"He died in 1995 just before they were beginning to see that there were methods that they could finally get this under control," said Whelan.
Foley's story and the impact the deadly virus played locally is documented in a new exhibit called HIV/AIDS in the Lehigh Valley, 40 years of advocacy and activism, now on display at Muhlenberg College Trexler Library.
Whelan reported on the epidemic and contributed a lot of material to the exhibit, including newsletters from local gay rights advocacy groups Le-Hi-Ho and the Lambda Center from the 80's and 90's.
"In 1991 a portion of the AIDS quilt came to Muhlenberg College it was the first time a portion had visited the Lehigh Valley," said Susan Falciani Maldonado, Trexler Library Special Collections and Archives Librarian.
Falciani Maldonado says pictures of the quilt in Muhlenberg's Memorial Hall feature squares dedicated to people who died locally.
"Gay people became visible for the first time. People who never thought about my brother might be gay or my sister might be a lesbian or something like that now suddenly recognize the fact that hey this is for real," said Whelan.
Whelan says the desire to fight the virus forged a strong LGBT community, which also kept its eyes focused on civil rights issues.
Falciani Maldonado says the exhibit also contains items from the Lehigh Valley Community Archives as part of a partnership with the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.
She says the Allentown Public Library also contributed content.
The exhibit is free to the public and available during regular library hours. It runs through Dec. 17.