After the “Straight State”: Sexuality and Social Reform during California’s HIV/AIDS Crisis

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM
Regent Room (New York Hilton)
Stephen Colbrook, University of Cambridge
In recent years, the repression of sexual minorities by the U.S. state has become a significant theme for historians of sexuality. Influential works, such as The Straight State by Margot Canaday, have shown that state bureaucracies and legislators explicitly regulated sexual identity for the first time during the twentieth century. This paper will use HIV/AIDS policymaking as a framework to explore whether the ‘straight state’ was reconfigured or overturned during the 1980s and 1990s, a critical period for the legitimation of minority rights. In California, legislators increasingly turned to LGBT aides and activists for their expertise and community connections. Proactive within the state legislature, LGBT policymakers were able to fight the federal government’s indifference by formulating an active, statist response to HIV/AIDS. However, this interventionist approach faced substantial opposition from those who characterised HIV as a ‘gay plague’ and resisted any form of state expansion. Tension grew between LGBT policymakers, who increasingly viewed the state as a social policy innovator, and those who fought to prop up the ‘straight state’ and its punitive stance towards homosexuality. As a result, LGBT policymakers were put on the defensive by the late 1980s, just as they felt a broader transformation of healthcare delivery was necessary to achieve justice for all people with AIDS.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>