SAN FRANCISCO - For Mike Gorman, Ph.D., the early days of the AIDS crisis were like a detective story with an ominous plot. He was working with a small research team from UCSF tracking a mysterious cancer outbreak.
RELATED: ABCs 'When We Rise' shows emotional journey of Bay Area activists
"In San Francisco most of the early cases were gay men who were diagnosed with this rare form of cancer called Kaposi's sarcoma or K.S," Gorman remembers.
Young men with tell-tale lesions on their face or body began turning up in the city, well before the discovery of a virus that would be called HIV or a disease called AIDS. Gorman and the team wanted to know what the men had in common, including where they lived.
Often going door to door, Gorman and the team mapped the outbreak, in neighborhoods like the Castro. Charting the edges of an eventual epicenter. The syndrome would initially be called GRID, for gay related immune deficiency. And Gorman would help break the news to a stunned community.
The scene is one of the most powerful in the mini-series, and shows Gorman revealing a map that locates most of the cases in heavily gay neighborhoods.
"People were very scared and we were scared, I mean it was very difficult. And because you kind of didn't know how this was transmitted," he says.
Within months, the fear would help ignite a political crisis. The city moved to close gay bath houses to slow the spread. And Gorman was swept up in the battles as activist groups like "act up" clashed over how to respond, sometimes turning their anger towards researchers and the health department itself.
Watch the four-part miniseries starting Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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Written and produced by Tim Didion