Discussions regarding the LGBTQ+ culture are approached with a certain level of controversy. Whether it is about drag shows, pride parades, religion, the LGBTQ+ identity, or policies on same-sex marriage, an aspect of the community has been discussed or debated within the general public. With many topics surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, a significant element within the LGBTQ+ community that is not talked about as much by the general public is HIV/AIDs and how it affects this community.
Before going into HIV / AIDS crisis, it is crucial to go over the timeline of HIV all over the world and how it got to the US. In the early 20th century, the Simian Immunodeficient Virus (SIV) at some point mutated into Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) where it went from infecting Chimpanzees to Humans; in addition to that, it spread in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the infection spread throughout Africa and the Caribbean and reached the Americas (1). By the early 1980s, there have been cases of HIV spreading among gay men in San Francisco. The early 1980s signaled a phenomenon that became the AIDS crisis.
On April 24, 1980, the first case of AIDS was documented in San Francisco when a gay man named Ken Horne was suffering from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer linked with a weakened immune system (1). By June of that same year, five more people had been diagnosed with the same rare cancer—which signified the beginnings of the US AIDS crisis (1). By July, over 41 gay men were diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which many news outlets and people dubbed the disease as “gay pneumonia” and “gay cancer” (1). By May, the New York Times published an article that kickstarted the term GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), which perpetuated the conception that HIV/AIDS affected only gay men (1). By September 24, the CDC referred to the condition by its proper name of AIDS (1). On January 7, 1983, the first cases of women diagnosed with AIDS were reported by the CDC (1). By March of that year, the CDC announces that the primary vectors of the spread of the virus are gay men with multiple sexual partners, people who inject drugs, Haitians, and people with hemophilia” (1). In a study done by the American Journal of Medicine on March 1, 1984, it contacts traced opportunistic infections caused by sexual contact with various partners throughout Southern California (1). Within the study, they found out that many of the patients that have contracted and shown symptoms of AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses originated from a person they named “patient O” as the patient originated outside of Southern California; however, many people misinterpreted and misread both the study and the term “patient O” to think that one promiscuous or malicious gay man kicked off the AIDS crisis in America (1). This history and much more that cannot be easily summarized in this article have had a lasting impact in both that period and our current day.
The AIDS crisis has changed healthcare for the better and the worst and created a vast level of ostracization for those with the disease. In addition to that, it has erupted stigma towards people with HIV that was treated similarly to lepers in biblical times. Many funeral homes that received the bodies of those who died of AIDS would not want to receive or handle their bodies (1). Many families who have members who were diagnosed with HIV did not acknowledge their relation or their deaths; in addition to that, individuals who were diagnosed with HIV often never publicly acknowledge their condition through denial or to avoid public controversy. Famous examples of people who had contracted HIV and died of AIDS that have never recognized their condition until near death or post-mortem are Freddie Mercury and Liberace (2). In one instance, Ryan White, a teenager from Indiana, was barred from going to his middle school because he contracted HIV through a blood transfusion— with many similar situations happening in different states, such as Florida, with many of those students facing death threats or major exclusion (1). During 1986, the US implemented an immigration ban where people who tested HIV positive were banned from entry into the country. With many of these deaths from AIDS and opportunistic infections from HIV, many changes in healthcare were implemented, such as screening blood for HIV in blood transfusions, the creation of antiviral medication that can suppress symptoms and prevents infection to others, and policies that prevent gay men from donating blood until a year of celibacy (1).
Outside of the stigmatization of HIV and for people diagnosed with it, the AIDS crisis has disproportionally affected the LGBTQ+ community and minority groups within the country and has continually affected these groups to this current day. HIV has disproportionally affected the LGBTQ+ community, especially for people who are black or Latino and men who have sex with men, as a result, being the leading cause of death for those communities and those within the 25-44-year-old age range (1&2). Furthermore, the AIDS crisis has brought about discriminatory policies such as barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood until they are celibate for over three months [which was changed from its historic lifetime and year-long celibacy requirement from previous policies], having resources for preventing and treating HIV/AIDS being underfunded especially for low-income individuals, and the criminalization of HIV infection if done intentionally [which can still have implications to be used to incriminate someone unjustly] (1,2,4,&5). In addition to that, the AIDS crisis has perpetuated the idea that gay men are propagators of disease, which has sparked the negative correlation between STDs, promiscuity, and HIV with the gay community; building onto that, having many people incorrectly correlate the Monkeypox epidemic with the gay community even when the disease can equally affect people who are not in the LGBTQ+ community (6,7,&8). This discrimination has caused a negative impact on people’s efforts in HIV prevention, seeking proper healthcare treatment, and finding healthcare professionals who they can trust, which can negatively impact public health efforts for all kinds of diseases outside of HIV/AIDS.
In short, the AIDS crisis has primarily affected the LGBTQ+ and minority groups by propagating additional layers of stigma and ostracization to those communities to the general public, causing bias within the medical field to these individuals and creating situations where it makes it harder for these communities to receive the support and resources they need to succeed properly.