Before AIDS: Gay and Lesbian Community Health Activism in the 1970s

2012-12-14T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Catherine P. Batza
At the start of the 1970s, gays and lesbians were sick. The medical profession deemed homosexuality an illness, and even as gays and lesbians challenged this theory of illness based of sexuality, many were suffering from actual illnesses in the form of venereal diseases. Propelled by a series of historical developments, including gay liberation, gays and lesbians began to create health services for themselves in the 1970s, which would grow in size and number throughout the decade, even after mainstream medicine altered its stance on homosexuality. These health services served as a vehicle for gays and lesbians to effectively challenge notions of their innate illness in mainstream medicine and society while also providing needed services and strengthening burgeoning gay and lesbian communities. This dissertation, through clinics in Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, traces the origins and evolutions of gay and lesbian health services in the 1970s. These services and organizations contributed to the gay and lesbian culture, politics, and communities that emerged during gay liberation. It also shows how gay health services grew directly out of the radicalism of the 1960s, a national discussion on health care and medical authority, and efforts by the state to provide health care services to underserved communities, ameliorate social discord, and slow rising poverty rates. Before AIDS illustrates the important role that health played in gay and lesbian identity and politics during the gay liberation period. Furthermore, the state emerges as an unlikely, and often unintentional, benefactor of gay and lesbian health services and community building efforts throughout the decade, not only allowing for the creation of these services, but also shaping their growth. The role of the state in creating gay and lesbian health services in the 1970s, the concern for sexual health among gays and lesbians at the time, and the resulting gay and lesbian medical and research infrastructure explored in Before AIDS recasts the events of the early AIDS crisis in 1980s. From this perspective Before AIDS provides insight into the dynamic and changing relationships between the state, the gay and lesbian communities, and health in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.