Anna Sisco comes out on “Oprah” and talks about her brother who died of AIDS


On today’s episode of Oprah, the talk show host revisits a fieldhouse in Willamson, West Virginia where she held a symposium of sorts in 1987. The topic, then, was AIDS, and revolved around Mike Sisco, a gay man who, at the time, was living with AIDS and had been shunned by his community. The nation learned of their behavior when his visit to the public swimming pool made headlines, as the town was scared of how he had “contaminated” it.

It’s evident in the clips they showed of that 1987 episode that Mike was a brave man, one who only sought compassion from his neighbors and the right to enjoy the rest of his life with his family. But, back then, the town had nothing but repulsion and ill feelings toward Mike, gay people and AIDS victims, and they took turns stepping up to a microphone to share their feelings. Ideas were shared about quarantining AIDS patients, and how nature had given them the disease to wipe them all out.

But today, Oprah’s revisit had these people apologizing to Mike’s family, including Mike’s sisters Patricia, Tina, and Anna (center below), who said she is now an out lesbian.

Anna now lives in Louisville, and the local news had her on their show last night to talk about her Oprah experience.

At the beginning of the show, Oprah asked the sisters about Mike not being able to be buried by his parents initially, and wondered if it was because the extended family thought his AIDS might reach people through the ground.

Anna said:

I think a lot of the reason as well they didn’t want him buried there was because he was gay. [It’s] a bigger part that what anybody would ever admit to.

Oprah also asked Anna if Mike’s being gay was part of her “ability to be so straight forward about it”:

I have a great family. I have great sisters that are wonderful. But yeah Mike paved the way for a lot of people.

So how did it feel to watch him in such a hostile environment with all those people attacking him?

He knew he was defeated going in. He was hoping that the show would focus on AIDS and how you contract AIDS and it didn’t. It turned to him being homosexual and I think some people got the purpose of the show and some people totally missed it. He wanted the education. He was adamant about educating.

“As a gay women up here, do you think that the town has changed its attitudes toward gay people and homosexuality?” Oprah asks.

“I really thought so,” Anna said. “Toward gay women, I can say, it’s easier to accept than gay men, because that’s what they all tell me. But I’m reluctant to say complete, absolutely positive yes. Unfortunately I think people are still geographically uneducated about anyone other than in this area. I hate to say that, but it’s the way I feel.”

The other guests on today’s show were townspeople who spoke fervently on the initial show, making hateful and uneducated statements about gays and people with AIDS. But their tunes have changed a little bit. Despite their saying they “don’t agree with the homosexual lifestyle,” they do feel they should have been compassionate and known more about AIDS before they gave their opinions on The Oprah Show.

At a press conference discussing the show, Oprah said:

I hope people can look at themselves and look at this show and understand that no matter what affliction people have, whether it’s AIDS or any other disease or some kind of crisis or disaster has befallen them, that people would be more compassionate. I think that is the complete message of this whole series we did here today and 23 years ago. I understand people’s fear, because in 1987, we still didn’t know everything and it’s understandable that people would have questions and what was represented here in Williamson really was a microcosm for the country. We used Williamson as a symbol for what was going on in the rest of the country.

And, I think the lesson is always “How can you be be more compassionate.” That’s one of the last questions I asked. How, if you had to do it again, would you have done it differently as a community? Even if you have fear, how do you embrace the person and still try to maintain a sense of protection and information for yourself and your family.

Mike lost his battle with AIDS in 1996, and his family insists he went peacefully, surrounded by his family. But Oprah’s choice to revisit this topic and Mike’s story, and dedicating the show in his memory, is a fitting way to celebrate his memory and the work he did by being so brave during his time on earth.

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