Marginalization of the Gay Community


The AIDS epidemic played a key role in furthering the Gay Rights movement. Beliefs about and responses to AIDS were often linked to feelings about the gay community due to the fact the initial outbreak of AIDS was concentrated in homosexual males. Prior to the AIDS epidemic, The Gay Rights movement expanded and began making progress in the early 1960s. The Stonewall Riots in 1969, where for three days, gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals resisted a police raid on New York bar, transformed the Gay Rights movement into a larger collective effort. Gays, lesbian, and transgender individuals were part of a minority group that continually faced extreme amounts of prejudice and homophobia. Sexual prejudices, combined with the early concentration of AIDS in the gay community, led to negative feelings about AIDS that paralleled feelings about the gay community.

AIDS was largely impacted by social views of the time. One of the most dangerous side effects of the 80’s AIDS epidemic was stigma that would become attached to those infected, particularly for the gay community.  Since the earliest cases of AIDS in the United States primarily affected gay men, the virus quickly became associated with homosexuality.  In the early 80’s, AIDS was referred to as GRID, or gay-related immunodeficiency disease.  Early media coverage of the outbreak of AIDS focused on its concentration in the gay community, such as in the New York Times article titled “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals,” published in 1981. In fact, in the article, CDC representative Dr. James Curran even claimed that there was “no apparent danger to nonhomosexuals from contagion.”  As time went on, this fatal epidemic would continue to disproportionately affect the gay community and foster many misconceptions and hostility regarding the spread of the virus.  The lay belief that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, such as through drinking glasses, further fueled burgeoning fears regarding interaction with gay men.  As a result, the gay community worked to “dehomosexualize” AIDS to combat neglect of the gay community in prevention and treatment efforts.  Today’s sociologists argue that the feelings of fear and blame reflected popular attitudes towards homosexuality at the time and that AIDS was not the cause but the vehicle of existing sexual prejudice.  The Christian Right and other conservative groups lambasted the gay rights movement with Pat Buchanan writing, “There is one, only one, cause of the AIDS crisis-the willful refusal of homosexuals to cease indulging in the immoral, unnatural, unsanitary, unhealthy, and suicidal practice of anal intervourse, which is the primary means by which the AIDS virus is being spread.” By blaming the gay community for AIDS, conservatives portrayed gays as dangerous to society and worked to fight AIDS through strategies such as quarantine, tattooing those infected, and state sodomy laws. People even believed that gay men who contracted AIDS sexually were “guilty” because one, they had chosen to engage in the risky act of sex with another man, and/or two, simply because they were gay.


As a result, the gay community came together in order to combat these misconceptions, as they worked to “de-gay” AIDS.  Another effect of the AIDS epidemic on the gay community was an increase in the amount of individuals who chose to come out of the closet to speak out about AIDS rather than to live in fear or to be outed if they were to fall ill.  Unfortunately AIDS would out many individuals, however, a silver lining was to be found in that it opened the eyes of the public of what gay or AIDS could look like.  Actor Rock Hudson would be the first international celebrity to be diagnosed with and eventually die from AIDS in 1985.  This revelation of Hudson as both an AIDS patient and gay shook up Americans who idolized Hudson as a symbol of ‘50’s masculinity and redefined the image of what a gay man with AIDS could be: anyone.

Clip from And the Band Played On (based on book published in ‘87 about the late 70s and 80s)


Michels, Spencer. “Bobbi Campbell.” PBS News Hour. PBS, 14 June 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. Image.

Clews, Colin. “1980’s. What Causes AIDS?” Gay in the 80s. 1985. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. Image.

Other related sources:

Herek, Gregory M., and John Capitanio. “IDS Stigma and Sexual Prejudice.” American Behavioral Scientist (1999): n. pag. The Center for HIV Law and Policy. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Halkitis, Perry N., PhD. “Discrimination and homophobia fuel the HIV epidemic in gay and bisexual men.” American Psychological Association. N.p., Apr. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Andriote, John-Manuel. Interview. The University of Chicago Press. N.p., 1999. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Pitas, Jeannine. “History of the Gay Rights Movement in the US.” Life in the USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.