The AIDS Epidemic
Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, the publics perspective was open to new ideas; the LGBTQ community introduced gay and lesbian bars, such as The Mine Shaft and The Hershee Bar. This allowed these individuals to be who they were even though the public did not see them as equals. The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic caused major controversy and political issues. The Mine Shaft, a famously known gay bar located in the Meatpacking District was privately opened by owner Wally Wallace on October 8, 1976.
The Mine Shaft was located at 835 Washington Street in New York Citys Greenwich Village, with two floors without windows and marked by the entry on the street by a simple white line. On June 28, 1969, around the area of which the Stonewall Riots appeared rebelling against police brutality harming the gay community, members of The Mine Shaft described the club as a temple of non-traditional sex, and members stated: did what I wanted without the fear of judgment (Mineshaft, the most legendary and infamous cruising bar).
The transsexuals and transvestites were not allowed to in the bar. On October 1, 1976, The Mine Shaft adopted a dress code to be followed in 1978. Through observation, most members of The Mine Shaft were hyper masculine, and wore motorcycle gear, cowboy clothing, leather and workers uniforms. The outbreak of AIDS caused the closing of many bars and bathhouses and stripped the opportunity to educate the individuals that carry the virus.
Vincente Minnelli, Rainer Wermer Fassbinder and many more male celebrities visited The Mine Shaft following the first major appearance in the 1980s hit film, Cruising, featuring the legendary Rock Hudson.
October 25, 1985 health regulations were updated by the State Public Health Council as a temporary 60-day closure. New York health inspectors witnessed high risk sex at The Mine Shaft on November 1st, 2nd, 3rd of 1985. On November 7, 1985, The Mine Shaft was closed by the Health Department for the violation of the anti-AIDS policies. The anti-AIDS policies related to the spread of the disease were caused by incarcerated gay individuals as well as immigrants and less fortunate. By the mid-80s the United States began to expand the topic of unsafe sex, sexuality and the LGBTQ community as a political debate throughout the country. Gay activists alleged the state sex regulations have less to do with stopping AIDS than with controlling the behavior of gay men. Lori Behrman of Gay Mens Health Crisis spoke out to talk about the attention of the bars and baths being targeted. Behrman argued that buildings do not spread AIDS, people do. The bars and baths can provide a location to educate gays and lesbians about the high risk of AIDS, if all of the bars get closed, nothing will change. Behrman further stated, … its easy for politicians to say, Here Ive done something about AIDS, but developing a good educational program is harder to point to, and harder to do.
The AIDS epidemic during this time was defined as an uncontrollable disease that could be transferred through physical contact; the fear of the spread of the virus caused individuals to turn on one another. Politicians did not recognize the importance of AIDS as a public health crisis instead they focused on the political, social, and economic components of the crisis. The professionals tested the theory of this political anomaly and failed to make the study compatible with patients as well as not being able to reach every minority group that needed to be reached. These issues were a result of not being affordable or accessable to clinics for individuals to receive the treatment. Members of the epidemic advocated for the LGBT community by creating a system of sexual practices and politics to promote safe sex as well as educate each other about the disease. Over the course of the 1980s, it became increasingly problematic through the characterization and assumptions of a distinct group of individuals that carry the virus. The medical and historical context of AIDS/HIV linked people of color to hyper sexuality. People of color were faced with racial and sexual discrimination through the association of the disease. The social group of colored people is often taught a way to prevent the disease rather than promote safe sex. The election of Ronald Reagan lengthens the conservatisms historical trajectory, expanding its ability to bring together people who had social and economic issues. President Reagan had limited say of the government’s epidemic of what he could do for the individuals who struggled with these problems.
During the postwar era, the opposition to changes in gay and lesbian sexual and gender relations increased rapidly. The prologue of AIDS scholars, Todd Gitlin and Walter Benn Michaels, argued that identities of race, gender, and sexuality fractured the left and made it unable to appeal to the wide range of the minority that constituted the backbone of the New Deal coalition. The New Deal stripped the ideas of a new vision for the government to create national and world order. The term neoliberalism described inequality, market discipline, public austerity, and law and order. In some cases of the AIDS epidemic, the LGBTQ community was considered a non-neoliberalist movement. Some arguments made by activists provided information and a moment to advocate gay liberation and not run away from it. Activists questioned the true definition of gay liberation, health, fulfillment, behavior, and promiscuity. They began to observe the role of love and affection in liberated behavior, and how to be empowered by coalition around sexual health. Professionals struggled with developing information to understand gay/lesbian long-term sexual health and relationships. Individuals of the community interviewed being asked about their sexual lives, symptoms, if they know what AIDS was, and if they were willing to learn more about the disease. They also argued that sexual expression by itself could be held responsible for potentially of getting AIDS.
During this time lesbians were at higher risk of receiving AIDS and began to seek their own health care, which also caused a social movement by a feminist activist that pushed for the privilege. AIDS/HIV was not the only time of which STDs were a part of the gay/lesbian community through higher sexual actions and relationships between individuals of the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ community were exposed to, for example, syphilis, hepatitis B, and gonorrhea. Many of the gay patients had gay doctors who STD /STI and these doctors test them for diseases. Doctor Joseph Sonnabend, a white South African immigrant trained in the medical field for infectious diseases, he was known as the clap doctor and prescribed antibiotics for treatment.
Doctor Robert K. Bolan owner of a private practice, and in partnership with National Coalition of Gay Sexually Transmitted Disease Services was involved in a social network of hundreds of service groups for the same studies and interest. His program sought men all around the world that had a specific disease and tried to teach them about it. Bolan argued that the specific knowledge of gay sexual activities and the ability to be supportive of the gay community was essential for health education. A report published by the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), simplified Bolans meaning of the expression of ones natural sex drive. They gave hacks of how to want sex and be able to have sex without the risk of diseases. Bolans guidelines for the health of a gay sex promoted gay sexual health. Health service creating new facilities through wanting to help or even understanding this health expanded. It was believed as long as gays were around these diseases would be too. Ron Vachon, a physicians assistant in Boston, was founder of Bostons Gay Health Collective and member of the National Coalition of Gay Sexually Transmitted Disease Services. Vachon had a desire to study the connection of gays sexual health with the forms of the intimacy that been destigmatized by gay liberation. In March 1981 Vachon wrote that Care for Your Rectum and explained anal intercourse and it having more sexual positions than any other bond. Vachon argued that the bond has be there to trust ones partner in anal intercourse. His studies began to explain that most patients that experienced it had a terrible time, through having bad lubrication, no relaxations, and excessive drugs to help to increase desire for it. Anal sex was a commitment between gay men to develop an intimate sexual bond between each other. Howard Brown, founder of Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago 1974, became the hub of the research that’s going on in gay health (Brier 17). Wanda Lust, drag queen and nurse an employee of Browns traveled to bathhouses and bars to test gay men for STDs and gave methods to maintain their health. This did not have much of an impact on those were excluded, such as men of color or lower class men, and those who avoided a gay health clinic.
In 1980, Richard Edwards, a gay New Yorker, created a Meridian an online magazine about the spread of STDs in the gay community a whole year before the first case of AIDS. The website only rewarded the men that were tested negative by issuing men with a clean bill of health signed and dated by a doctor, Meridian members received an identification card and an official membership pin. Edwards took a step further out of the closet as the milestone as he advocated more for gay health testing. Gaining membership was not secured simply by becoming visible to others. Edwards argued ways needed to be found to meet substantial responsibilities of sexual freedom. Rather than depending on the government’s health care efforts, his model emphasized mens responsibility to their brothers. During mid-1982 gay liberation was defined as a camaraderie through the Meridian community. The summary of Edwards practice was to make men willing to accept their gay identity.
In conclusion, the AIDS epidemic had a negative impact when gay and lesbian bars were closed, but in the end we gained substantial information on treatment of the disease. The Mine Shaft should have been able to have the option to change the rules to and remain intact, but in the wake of the fear of the spread of AIDS, was closed down. The eruption of AIDS led to bars and bathhouses being abruptly shut down nationally. As a result, politicians stripped many possibilities of educating individuals about sexually transmitted diseases.