December 1st marks the 25th annual World AIDS Day, and LIFE.com revisits a turning point in the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Shot in November 1990 by journalism student Therese Frare, the haunting photograph of David Kirby, surrounded by family members on his deathbed, put a strikingly human face on the disease. Over two decades later, LIFE shares the emotional story behind the photo:
“I started grad school at Ohio University in Athens in January 1990,” Frare told LIFE. “Right away, I began volunteering at the Pater Noster House, an AIDS hospice in Columbus. In March I started taking photos there and got to know the staff — and one volunteer, in particular, named Peta — who were caring for David and the other patients.”
Kirby, a gay activist who had become estranged from his family at the time, learned he had contracted HIV in the late '80s. After his diagnosis, Kirby reached out to his parents to ask if he could come home; "he wanted, he said, to die with his family around him. The Kirbys welcomed their son back."
Read on over at LIFE.com for the full story.