“Gay Activist Means a Black Tie Dinner at $100 a Head”: Gay Conservatism, Civic Liberalism, and Antiradicalism in AIDS-Crisis Los Angeles

Monday, January 6, 2020: 12:00 PM
Clinton Room (New York Hilton)
Nic John Ramos, Brown University
Echoing the “Silent Majority” rhetoric of Middle Class America, the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA), successfully emerged by the mid-1980s as the politically strongest and most well funded gay community advocacy organization in the nation. The organization notably helped pass benchmark pro-gay city policies long before New York and San Francisco by disavowing the “traditional” politics of gay and queer leftist and radical organizations. By 1984, however, that political clout had begun to erode with the advent of the AIDS crisis. Looking to MECLA and its gay political ally, the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (GLCSC), this paper examines how gay activists -- considered “conservative” within the gay rights movement but “liberal” within civic politics -- negotiated and responded to the emerging AIDS epidemic by supporting the shut down of the city’s bathhouses, cracking down on perceived troublesome queer and trans community “street life,” and supporting the Senate candidacy of former anti-gay Police Chief Ed Davis. The paper traces the ideological roots of MECLA’s political formation to the work of community mental health advocates such as Dr. Evelyn Hooker. It also sheds light on how gay political organizations maintained political leverage from the 1970s through the 1980s by using the AIDS crisis to define themselves as respectable gay political subjects who could be differentiated from queer and trans political subjects of color who existed as part of a growing so-called permanent underclass.
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