Local/National/Transnational Queer Interactions, Part 1: Queering the Transnational History of HIV/AIDS

AHA Session 50
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 2
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Virginia Suite (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jennifer Brier, University of Illinois at Chicago

Session Abstract

This panel is part of the Committee on LGBT History’s special 2014 thematic series related to political history, “Local/National/Transnational Queer Interactions.”

Even as we enter the fourth decade of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, most popular accounts of the global pandemic differentiate between AIDS in the United States, where AIDS seems to be solved or at least deserving only of apathy, and AIDS in the rest of the world, where the disease continues to rage in the face of bureaucracy or governmental indifference. The overly simplistic and incorrect division is made possible by a kind of American exceptionalism that paradoxically pairs notions of American medical ingenuity with locating same-sex sexuality among men in the United States, and its resultant activism. Along side this model, rampant heterosexuality and poverty spread HIV/AIDS in the global South, particularly on the African continent.

Historians and scholars who have written about AIDS since the mid-1980s often trace similar kind of patterns, although rarely as simplisticly. Focusing their attention on either how gay activism in the US or global North did or did not address AIDS along side other issues, scholars detail how homophobia, white supremacy, and income inequality have allowed AIDS to spread. Alternatively, the scholarship on responses to AIDS in the global South, provides rich details for how AIDS service providers, whether employed by the state or working outside of it, address poverty and gender inequality along side HIV/AIDS. While all of this work is critical to writing a much needed transnational history of both the AIDS pandemic and responses to it, few scholars have focused sustained attention to how queer desire and sexual practice and/or queer activism is historically connected to AIDS in the global South.

This session will bring together four scholars at varying stages of their careers, working on various geographic locations and spaces for the transmission of ideas and activism. James Green will talk about the one of the first Brazilian gay AIDS activist Herbert Daniel, whose experience fighting the dictatorship was as influential on his AIDS work as his sexuality; Richard McKay will talk about the pre-history of AIDS to understand how ideas about health traveled through the global North; Dan Royles will present his work on ACT UP-Philadelphia, one of the only active chapters remaining today and one of the only to make a concerted commitment to center the needs of poor people and people of color and to think about globalization; and Manidsa Mbali will discuss her research on queer AIDS activism in South Africa, the nation most directly associated with the idea that AIDS is caused as much by poverty as by the exchange of bodily fluids. Jennifer Brier will chair and moderate the discussion. Each panelist will speak for approximately 12-15 minutes, and then Brier will pose a two or three questions to them to get the conversation going, leaving plenty of time for audience engagement. Given the comparative nature of the session, we imagine it will appeal to multiple audiences.

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