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Announcement Hailed as a Way to Teach Public : Taboos: Activists praise Johnson for his courage. They say he can help shatter myths about HIV, AIDS.

November 08, 1991|SCOTT HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brad Laughlin, who watched Johnson's press conference on TV at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Hollywood, said he hoped Johnson is more forthcoming in the future about how he contracted the virus.

"Granted, it's his personal position. It's brave of him to do this. It would be even more powerful if he'd come out and say it--whatever it is," Laughlin said. "There's nothing to be ashamed of."

But the reaction at Inglewood High School, not far from where Johnson routinely performed heroics at the Forum, showed that much of the stigma associated with HIV is still prevalent, as is ignorance about how the virus is transmitted.

One student there said he was one of Johnson's biggest fans. Now his feelings have changed. "I would still go up to him and say, 'Good game,' " he said. "But I wouldn't shake his hand."

Freeman Smith, a member of the school's basketball team, disagreed strongly. "He got me to care more about people," Smith said. "If he was here, I'd shake his hand, I'd give him a hug. I like Magic no matter what."

Another myth that Johnson could destroy is that contracting HIV is tantamount to an immediate death sentence, activists said. Johnson himself emphasized that he expects to live a long time and pursue his dream of owning an NBA franchise.

"It's another challenge, another chapter in your life," Johnson said. "It's like your back is against the wall. And I think that you have to come out swinging, and I'm swinging.

"I'm going to go on. I'm going to beat it and I'm going to have fun."

Williams said he understands how Johnson felt.

"I'm infected and I know what it's like to live with HIV," he said. "My message to Magic would be that there is in fact life after HIV.

"He is fortunate to be living at a time when a whole range of well-founded treatments are available for HIV, helping people live a longer and better quality of life."

Times staff writers Dean Murphy and David Reyes contributed to this story.

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