Embracing Disability: AIDS Activism and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM
Williford C (Hilton Chicago)
Nancy Brown, Purdue University
Activists employed several tactics to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Fundraisers, marches, candlelight vigils and public demonstrations brought attention to the epidemic and pushed the government to respond. This paper sheds light on a strategy that has received little attention from historians-the path towards disability. While efforts to secure a federal gay rights bill in the 1980s had failed, the Americans with Disabilities Act promised recourse for people with HIV/AIDS, a virus and syndrome many negatively associated with gay men. The path towards disability entailed working with the administrative bureaucracy, political finesse and collaboration with other marginalized groups as well as “mainstream” organizations. In the process, those working in the national political sphere purposefully distanced HIV/AIDS from its association with gay men. This paper provides an overview of the shift from seeking disability status as a practical necessity to fighting for the civil rights of people who are disabled and interrogates changing concepts of disability. I consider, did embracing disability expand the citizenship and rights of the LGBT community?
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