Princess Diana’s Handshake Busted HIV/AIDS Myth

Princess Diana's Handshake | Unmysh 2020

As the Pride Month ends and we celebrate The People’s Princess, Diana Frances Spencer’s 59th birthday, I can’t help but remember her contribution to the LGBT community. I’m, of course, talking about the famous ‘Princess Diana’s Handshake.’

What all the money and the reach of various governments couldn’t achieve, Princess Diana’s handshake achieved in a single photo frame. For the uninitiated, let me rewind the time by 40 years and take you back to 1980.

The Outbreak of HIV/AIDS

When the initial outbreak of HIV/AIDS were covered, there were a lot of ill-informed reporters who added fuel to the frenzy by spreading misinformation. Till CDC came out with their own studies in 1983, some news channels had already blown it out of proportion. 

“Thank the lords that we have a well-informed and responsible media today” – said no one. 

People started to distance themselves from an HIV positive person. It was believed that if you came in contact with an HIV positive person, you’d get the disease. Los Angeles Times even conducted a survey and found that around 50% of their respondents wanted to quarantine HIV positive patients. 

All these claims were, in fact, untrue. There was no scientific backing to these.

Some went a step further and claimed that the disease specifically originated from the male homosexuals and even gave it a name – ‘gay disease.’ Nothing has pushed the narrative of the homophobic community more than the myth surrounding HIV/AIDS. 

That was the case until Princess Diana’s handshake, 7 years later.

Princess Diana’s handshake in 1987

Before her life was cut short at the age of 36, Princess Diana was fondly known around the world as “The People’s Princess”. She dabbled in various charities and worked for landmine workers, malnourished children, cancer patients and so on. The list is endless.

Princess Diana’s handshake with an unidentified HIV/AIDS patient in 1987

Princess Diana's Handshake

However, of all the great things she managed to do in her short life, her contribution to the LGBT community is of paramount importance. All it took, was a handshake. 

On 19th April 1987, Princess Diana visited London Middlesex Hospital to inaugurate UK’s first-ever unit that would be used to treat people with HIV/AIDS.

As you might’ve seen in various pictures, royal dignitaries usually wear gloves while greeting. So, Princess Diana decided to use this opportunity to highlight an important issue, in her usual flair (revenge dress, anyone?)

While visiting the patients, she took off her gloves and shook hands with an unidentified AIDS patient. The photo hit every newspaper and TV sets and was dubbed as “Princess Diana’s Handshake”.

“HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it. What’s more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, and their playgrounds and toys.”

-Princess Diana

Shocked and appalled, the general public’s attitude towards the HIV/AIDS patients and the homosexual community began to change. 

“If a royal was allowed to go in shake a patient’s hands, somebody at the bus stop or the supermarket could do the same. That really educated people.” said one nurse to BBC, who was a witness to this historic moment.

If it weren’t for that fateful accident on the night of 31 August 1997, Princess Diana could’ve and would’ve helped change the world. This was a person, whose mere act of a handshake, managed to kill stigmas surrounding a disease.

Maybe, the world is better when there are Princess Dianas in it.

Like this segment on ‘Princess Diana’s Handshake’? We bust a common myth every Tuesday. Don’t forget to come back next week for a new one. Meanwhile, check out the other subjects that made Unmysh’s list of myth busters here.   

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