Global HIV/AIDS Activists In The LGBTQ Community

Cleve Jones

The HIV/AIDS crisis has been a primary issue for the LGBTQ community from the late twentieth century to today. While it is a challenging one on many fronts, it has been embraced by the LGBTQ community as an important part of its history.

The momentum forward in LGBTQ activism would face a major stumbling block in the 1980s: the emergence of an unusual and hitherto unknown aggressive form of cancer, detected particularly in the gay community. By September 1982, the CDC had adopted the name Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) as a label for this cancerous disease, to which patients all appeared to have no likelihood of resistance.

The fear amongst health workers (and other organizations such as police, firefighters, and funeral homes) to admit and properly treat victims of the disease led LGBTQ community activists to establish stand-alone AIDS clinics and chronic disease treatment centres around the world.

The first such was in 1982, when the Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle, Washington, opened. Other countries followed suit, such as Australia with St. Vincent’s (1983), England with London Lighthouse (1986), Canada with Casey House (1988), and Scotland with Waverly Care (1989).

By the end of 1985, there were 20,303 cases worldwide reported to the World Health Organization. This grew to 71,750 cases by the end of 1987. At this stage, AIDS had become identified as a ‘gay disease’ and homophobia escalated.

Thus began a series of more publicly visible actions by the LGBTQ community around the disease. AIDS activist Cleve Jones in the United States began the high-profile AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1986, wherein each panel of a quilt would memorialize an individual lost to AIDS.

Some New York activists (led by Larry Kramer) in 1987 formed a new organization called ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to employ more direct action tactics to press for concrete plans to attack the disease and counter the homophobia it was generating.

Identically named, or similar, organizations were formed in Paris, London, including Terrence Higgins Trust (1982), Stonewall (1989), OutRage (1990)), and Berlin. The notion was to transition the community from its portrayal as disease ‘victims’ into activist ‘experts’.

The first International AIDS Conference was held in Montreal in 1989, being a mix of activists and scientific medical practitioners. Today, medical advances have changed the AIDS disease from a death-sentence to a chronic illness in the developed world. Great attention is paid today by many activists to HIV/AIDS within the less developed world. have identified prominent LGBTQ HIV/AIDS activists from Algeria, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, China, Brazil, El Salvador, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Spain, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, United States, Venezuela, and Zambia. 

To read more and to see a list of individual activist, go to:

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