Infectious Ideas: U.S. Political Responses to the AIDS Crisis

By Jennifer Brier | Go to book overview

1 Affection Is Our Best Protection
Early AIDS Activism and the Legacy
of Gay Liberation

ON JUNE 18, 1983, almost two years to the day after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report the first cases of the disease that would be called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Boston’s weekly gay newspaper, Gay Community News (GCN), published a discussion between writer-activists Cindy Patton and Bob Andrews about the personal and political implications of what had become the AIDS epidemic. Patton, who in 1983 served as the managing editor of GCN and would go on to be a prolific social theorist of AIDS, was one of the first women to publish commentary on AIDS.1 In this early article she made a political argument about how gays and lesbians should respond to AIDs:

What we are experiencing in the gay community right now is “It’s not
political until it’s personal.”… In dealing with the government agen-
cies and the health industry regarding AIDS, we can channel our anger
outside of our community. Turning our anger inward and toward oth-
ers in our community divides us unnecessarily. Gays are worn down
by our oppression. We worry about our jobs, our lovers, about coming
out. Straight society has said to us, “You lead this terrible lifestyle and
your punishment is to be sick all of the time,” and on some level we’ve
accepted that. We have to turn that around now, and say: This society
is not going to kill us any more.2

Patton’s analysis illustrated a particular moment in both the early history of AIDS and the epidemic’s place in the larger political history of the 1980s. First, Patton connected AIDS to feminism, albeit in a somewhat altered

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