Our Theme: the AIDs Epidemic

Executive Summary

Our topic is the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. This topic will have particular resonance with this course because of its extensive coverage by gay artists who were afflicted with the disease. We hope to engage with their perspectives, as well as how Americans viewed the epidemic and the consequences of these views. From a policy standpoint, there will be much to learn in what the government did and, more notably, did not do. This topic will also be critical to our studies of another marginalized community in the U.S. from 1940-1980: gay men.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic occurred from 1980, when the first known AIDS case was reported to the CDC, to 1997, when death rates for HIV effectively plummet throughout the developed world. Our project will focus on the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic throughout the 1980’s, as it went undetected and ignored by the U.S. government for homophobic and racist reasons.  

Our theme complements other units because of its concern with marginalized communities, the advances and setbacks of healthcare, and the role of government in private life. We have studied and will continue to look at the struggles black Americans and women faced in the post-WWII period and in the 1960’s. Those times can be compared to the experience of gay men in the 1980’s during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The role of government has consistently developed since 1940, particularly in regards to healthcare, and its refusal to act during the epidemic will relate to our previous discussions on government intervention as well.

Not only is HIV/AIDS a serious global disease with an almost 100% fatality rate, but it is also a topic that is not covered in general history classes. It especially affected the gay community, a minority group that took a backseat to gender and black rights movements of the 1970s-80s. The topic is important because we can analyze and reflect how society handled the disease compared to recent outbreaks such as Ebola and the Zika virus. In addition, we can reflect on the treatment of the gay community between the 1980’s and present day.