Type of Project
LGBTQ, Community, Homosexual, Discussion, Project
AIDS, Crisis and Activism
After Stonewall there was less fear that police were going to entrap people. Although it was still happening, it was happening less and the LGBTQ community was starting to hold police forces accountable for their actions. Men could be more open and a gay lifestyle started to emerge.
Originally, monogamy was shunned by the gay male community as an imitation of, and what was wrong with, heterosexual relationships. There was some monogamy, especially after the development of a gay middle class, but many men had open relationships.
Homosexual men, primarily in the big cities, were concerned with restaurants, discos, boutique shopping, and bowling leagues. The political work of gay liberation was forgotten by many. At this time most gay couples did not have children, the idea that they could adopt or have children with surrogates was still developing, and their two-income households gave them money to spare. They spent it on renovating homes, vacations, and elaborate parties.
Men, especially in the cities, had more opportunity for many sexual encounters. They visited such establishments as bath houses, porn shops and “backroom” bars (bars with backrooms that were for illicit encounters). Bette Midler got her start singing at a highly fashionable bath house, in New York City, called The Continental. In San Francisco a type developed called the “Castro Clone.” These men were buff, wore a mustache and all wore muscle shirts and tight jeans. Many of them were so identical as to be indistinguishable from one another.
Disco started in small New York gay clubs where heterosexual people would also go to hear the latest trend setting music and most of the ’70s was all about sex and dancing. This would be the world for many gay men until a terrible disease brought it all crashing down.
That disease was HIV/AIDS. AIDS stands for: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and it is a result of someone contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1). The definition of AIDS is: a disease of the immune system due to infection with HIV. HIV destroys the CD4 T lymphocytes (CD4 cells) of the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to life-threatening infections and cancers
Scientists were able to identify that chimpanzees in West Africa could have been be a source of HIV infection in humans. There are many theories on how the virus may have crossed over to humans but the most likely is that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV either from humans hunting chimpanzees for meat or coming into contact with their infected blood.
The earliest known case of infection with HIV-1 in a human was detected in a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo but there is evidence that it could have existed in the human population in Africa as far back as 1924.
Suddenly, in the early 1980s, reports began to emerge of men that had rare forms of cancer and/or pneumonia. This cancer, known as Kaposi’s sarcoma, normally affected elderly men of Mediterranean or Jewish heritage and also young adult African men. The pneumonia, Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), is generally only found in individuals with seriously compromised immune systems.
AIDS starts when a person contracts the HIV virus and this compromises the patient’s immune system. They do not die from the disease, but from other diseases that their immune system cannot fight. The men were young and had previously been in relatively good health, and they were all gay.
On June 5, 1981 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describing cases of PCP, in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles. All the men have other infections and two had died by the time the report was published. This is the very first official report of the AIDS epidemic.
Many people believe that the disease was brought to America by gay flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, He is often named as “Patient Zero.” There is no proof of that now. He probably spread AIDS but there may have been other people that brought the disease into the USA.
In fact there is evidence that a teenager, in the USA had the virus in the mid-1960s. Mr Dugas was a real person who did eventually die of AIDS and HIV in the USA and was to a large degree initially spread by gay men; but this occurred on a huge scale over many years probably a long time before Dugas even began to travel. International travel by young men in that era was popular and may have helped to spread the disease.
When it first appeared, the disease was believed to be exclusively a gay disease, and people did not realize it could be transmitted through heterosexual sex (or through intravenous drug use as well) which provided new justifications for old hate and discrimination. Some televangelists declared the disease was a gay plague directly from the hand of God.
Many believe that this was a main reason that funding for research was such a low priority. From the beginning, gay men suffered from a new and heightened level of stigma as police wore latex gloves in any dealings with “suspected gays.” Employers fired gay men with no cause and landlords refused to rent to men who “fit the profile.”
People thought you could catch the disease with any contact but it was, and still is, transmitted by sexual contact and blood. You cannot get it by sharing a fork or a drinking glass, but people were frightened of any contact. Though the majority of deaths were of gay men there were other people at risk.
The AIDS epidemic in Haiti was first discovered in the 1980’s following the discovery of a number of Haitians with Kaposi’s sarcoma and other AIDS-related conditions. The medical field then began to claim that AIDS had come from Haiti.
These claims just furthered the pre-existing racism in the U.S. that many Haitians suffered from already. A large number of Haitian immigrants living in the U.S. lost their jobs and were evicted from their homes as Haitians were added to homosexuals, hemophiliacs and heroin users to make the ‘Four-H Club’ of groups at high risk of AIDS.
The blood industry
In some countries, such as the USA, donors were paid to give blood, a policy that often-attracted people that were desperate for cash and that included intravenous drug users. The problem was that doctors were not aware that HIV could be spread easily through blood and so blood donations remained unscreened. It was then sent worldwide and most people who received infected donations eventually contracted HIV.
In the late 1960’s hemophiliacs were given a blood product called Factor VIII. This is a coagulant that is made from the blood of hundreds of individual donors. Many hemophiliacs were at risk of contracting the disease, and did as one single donation could contaminate an entire batch of the product.
Gay men have been barred from being blood donors since 1985. They are still faced with restrictions around giving blood and this was one of the sad moments in the Pulse shooting. Gay men could not help the LGBTQ victims in Orlando. In December of 2015 the FDA lifted the lifetime ban, but men still have to wait at least one year after having sex with another man before giving blood.
France ended its ban on gay men giving blood in July of 2016. We have the bans in place here despite the fact that the FDA inspects all donated blood for numerous things including HIV. If it is found in donated blood the donor is notified and the blood is rejected.
In Israel, as of January 2018, they are allowing gay and bisexual men to make immediate donations. The Israel national emergency service has devised a “double testing” system that allows blood banks to screen donations twice. In 2017 medical researchers from Greece and the U.K. deemed bans on gay and bisexual blood donors “outdated,” saying that blood banks now have the advanced technology to test blood with 100 percent sensitivity and specificity.
It was not until we see other groups of people, aside from gay men, becoming infected that we also see a rise in funding to combat the disease. In 1985 the first famous gay person died of AIDS: Rock Hudson. At the time of his death, he was extremely famous and everyone knew who he was. He had made a living starring in movies as a very masculine man, a womanizer.
People did not want anyone to know they were dying from this disease because of the stigma that was attached of being unclean and maybe contagious as well. The first thought people had was that someone was gay not a hemophiliac or other risk group. Most of the American public did not know who these people were that were dying and Rock Hudson’s death gave the disease a face. His death was shocking to most people because his screen persona was of a very masculine man not what they expected of a gay man.
People magazine reported:
“Since Hudson made his announcement, more than $1.8 million in private contributions (more than double the amount collected in 1984) has been raised to support AIDS research and to care for AIDS victims (5,523 reported in 1985 alone). A few days after Hudson died, Congress set aside $221 million to develop a cure for AIDS.”
Mr Hudson was also a personal friend of President Ronald Reagan and this may be whey the government finally recognized the epidemic and increased funding.
Rock Hudson 1925-1985
The gay community had been divided along class, gender and racial lines (among others) and the AIDS crisis forced the community to make radical changes. Since no one in power seemed interested in doing anything about the deaths the community needed to come together and work together.
The first AIDS organization, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, was formed in New York City in 1982. Politics was now a matter of life and death and many organizations were formed to either assist those infected by the disease or to advocate for more research funding. In 1985 amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research was formed.
In 1987 there was the formation of the activist group ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. The symbol they used was the pink triangle which was the symbol used for homosexuals during the holocaust. They believed everyone should come out and that if people knew how many were suffering then more people would become allies and join the struggle.
They were a very vibrant group who participated in civil-disobedience, small-scale riots and other ways to get attention for the LGBTQ community’s plight. Their slogan was “Silence=Death.” This was meant as a battle cry for the LGBQ community to come out but also to admonish the world for not recognizing, nor seeming to care, for their plight.
The Lesbian Community
The risk of contracting HIV, for women who have sex with women, is minimal. During the crisis lesbians became the care givers for their friends dying from the disease. They were activists, nurses, cook’s maids and rides to the doctor. We know that gay men were banned from donating blood. And so, there were lesbian groups formed, such the “Blood Sisters” who helped by donating their own blood.
In your book, The Gay Revolution, Lillian Fader man says:
“Many lesbian feminists felt that men were chauvinistic and unsympathetic to women in general, and gay men were no different from straight men. Lesbian separatists particularly cut themselves off from and wanted to have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of male, gay or straight. But things changed seriously in the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic hit. Lesbians felt it was no time for animosity, and gay men realized these are our sisters and we need to work with them.”
The first treatment for HIV was approved by the FDA in 1987. These drugs suppressed the virus for long periods but patients still usually died. In 1996 they developed a treatment using a combination of previous treatments and protease inhibitors which saw a 60% to 80% decline in rates of AIDS, death, and hospitalization. There is still no cure or vaccine.
Today HIV/AIDS is still a global pandemic that continues to take millions of lives each year. The last statistics, from 2017, are that there are 36.9 million people living with HIV, only 21.7 million of them are receiving treatment. These numbers of untreated are mostly in developing countries where treatment is unavailable or difficult to obtain. There is also a lack of education about how to avoid becoming infected or what to do if they do become infected.
In 2017 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV. In 2017 940,000 people died from AIDS related illness. Since the beginning of the crisis 35.4 million people have died of the disease
African Americans make up forty one percent of the 1.2 million HIV-positive Americans despite being only twelve percent of the population. In 2014, roughly a quarter of the nation’s 45,000 new HIV infections were black men having sex with men, but who do not necessarily identify as bisexual or homosexual.
Thirty seven percent of the population, of the USA, lives in the southern United States but people in southern states make up forty four percent of Americans with HIV. The numbers show a distinct lack of AIDS education among the African American community and in the south.
In the USA approximately 50,000 people become infected with the virus every year. 63% of those are men who have sex with other men.
In the USA more than 1.1 million people have HIV and 15% are not aware that they are infected. According to the CDC: “Young people aged 13-24 accounted for 20% of new HIV infections in 2016, despite only making up 17% of the USA population. 80% of these infections occurred in the 20 to 24 age group.”
It is thought that 51% of young people living with HIV are not aware of their infection. This is due to inadequate sex education, risky behavior, and a sense of complacency that ‘it doesn’t affect me.’ This keeps young people from testing for HIV and subsequently accessing antiretroviral treatment.
To date, an estimated 658,507 people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States have died. Worldwide the number of deaths is 35 million.
This is a chart of the deaths, from AIDS, from 1980 to 1996. The numbers vary depending on the sources you use. I chose these from amfAR as they are well researched and a credible organization. The reason the chart ends in 1996 is that is when the new drugs resulted in a sharp decline in deaths.
There are some recent developments in the fight against AIDS: PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a preventative medicine that can be given to those at risk for the disease. Its actual name is Truvada and it is a combination of two HIV medications: tenofovir and emtricitabine. These medicines work by blocking important pathways that HIV uses to set up an infection.
If a person takes it daily, the presence of the medicine in their bloodstream can often stop HIV from taking hold and spreading in their body. It can provide up to a 99% reduction in risk. It was first approved by the FDA in 2012. You will see their commercials on television.
In February of 2017 the University of Oxford announced its HIV/AIDS vaccine has kept five, out of 15, patients free from HIV. One patient has been clear for over 7 months. The vaccine is still in early trials but it is a step in the right direction.
On a personal note:
I was 17 in 1980, when this started. I went to my first gay pride parade, in San Francisco, in 1984 at age 21. People were whispering about this new disease; it really did take a long time for it to get out to the LGBTQ community and then to the general public.
That first parade was uninhibited and joyful. When I returned to the parade the next year the party was over. Though we were still celebrating pride, many people were sick. By 1987 pride parades were full of “Silence= Death” signs and they were somber events where we remembered those who died each year.
I lost many friends to the disease, some very suddenly. I have only one friend who contracted HIV in the 1980s that is still alive today. I also lost friends to suicide. When they were diagnosed as HIV+ they would kill themselves rather than suffer a long agonizing death. If you look at that chart above you can see that I was in my 20’s through the AIDS crisis.
I was one of the women who brought the chicken soup and helped organize doctor visits. In 1995, I was a member of the local AIDS prevention organization in Monterey and helped raise money by doing the AIDS ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was hard watching my friends die, watching lovers mourn who had lost their partners, and seeing the loneliness of people everyone was afraid to touch.
AIDS is still out there and I urge everyone to get tested regularly!
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