The Unexpected Activists: AIDS Activism beyond New York City and San Francisco

AHA Session 139
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 9
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Murray Hill East (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Dan Royles, Florida International University
Dan Royles, Florida International University

Session Abstract

The existing histories of AIDS have created a clear cast of the typical AIDS activists within the United States consisting mostly of HIV+ white gay men in coastal cities and their friends, HIV+ women of color, underfunded social service agency workers, and wealthy and sometimes famous philanthropists. Backed by a swath of medical professionals working feverishly, if a-politically, behind the scenes, historians often pit these activists against an equally well-defined cast of AIDS related villains (both embodied and institutionalized)- political conservatives, the Religious Right, fearful and ignorant homophobes, neoliberalism, and structural racism and sexism. This existing literature focuses either almost exclusively on coastal cities or on larger national themes (that focus on the coasts as well). Though the picture painted of the AIDS epidemic by this literature is not inaccurate, it is far from complete or inclusive. This panel seeks to shed light upon activists that this existing narrative makes unlikely or unseen. These papers bring voice to activists who operated away from the coasts, navigated different political terrains and often waded through multiple forms of identity-based discrimination to address the AIDS crisis as they saw and experienced it. In doing so, this panel broadens the existing historical narrative of AIDS and also provides greater depth and complexity to our understanding of the ways in which racism, conservatism, local politics, religion, and medicine shaped the AIDS activism of those removed from the coasts and in turn, how those experiences shaped the national AIDS experience as a whole.
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