This was not an exaggeration. The government ignored the issue of HIV/AIDS for years before anything was done. Gay and Queer communities had to form their own clinics because no government agencies cared for them. Back then, being diagnosed was equivalent to a death sentence or extreme debt and poor quality of life/a significantly shortened lifespan.
Things got so desperate that people literally had “Die-Ins”— in contemporary usage this refers to masses of people simulating death in order to protest something (like the War in Iraq). In this case, however, fatally sick people would literally lie down in public places and protest with what little energy they had left until they died. There is some footage of a church Die-In in the documentary Beyond Stonewall. The middle image here of that person’s jacket is not an extreme political statement; it’s what people had to do because they had no other options.
The horror of the AIDS epidemic gives me chills. It was a truly despicable and inhumane period of inaction.
To learn more about the politics behind the 80s AIDS epidemic, check out And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts.