The HIV/AIDS pandemic (also discussed in Chapter 12) was devastating for the queer community. For quite some time, the public mistakenly assumed that the virus only affected gay people, particularly gay men, and was even labeled as a “gay cancer” (HIV.org n.d.). Worldwide HIV has taken over 36 million lives. Health officials in the United States first noticed the virus on June 5, 1981, when five gay men were hospitalized with notable infections and failing immune systems, but it wasn’t until September 17, 1985, where President Ronald Reagan publicly spoke on the issue and claimed HIV then to be a priority of his (HIV.org n.d.).
Within that time frame, thousands were dying and desperate to do whatever possible to save the lives of themselves and their loved ones. Queer people and allies would look after their sick friends, and because of the slow reaction from the government, they would meet with others to organize for action. As a result of this organizing, one major coalition was formed, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).
ACT UP would protest against misinformation and rally when they felt organizations were not acting with haste. They protested against New York City Hall, the Food and Drug Administration, Wall Street, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and more (United in Anger). Within ACT UP, there were affinity groups with different focuses, and people would use their knowledge and experiences to strategize. These affinity groups strengthened the sense of trust within the entire movement, and helped individual affinity groups feel a strong sense of support and belonging.
Because of the painful history, HIV was stigmatized and labeled as a death sentence, even within the LGBTQ+ community. Just like COVID-19, when HIV first appeared, it was terrifying, and there was no treatment. In the 1980s, people were almost certain to die from it. Medical science has come a long way in the treatment of HIV, and now it is treatable with medication. HIV is also easily prevented with proper condom use. While HIV is not currently curable, HIV positive individuals can live long and healthy lives without transmitting the virus, if given the right medication, and can actually get to what is known as undetectable, meaning the virus is no longer showing up in your system. The following clip describes this. HIV: Journey to Undetectable