Churchill History Lecture Series: Fighting Federal Indifference: Sexuality, the State, and Social Reform during the early HIV/AIDS Crisis – Stephen Colbrook

18 Feb 2020
Location: Jock Colville Hall, Churchill College
Start time: 17:30
End time: 19:00

In July 1981, Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, the world's first organisation for LGBT medical professionals, published a newsletter informing its readers of 'a new potentially lethal syndrome … seen among otherwise healthy young gay males in New York and California'. What was later identified as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), tore apart minority communities and redefined battles over access to health care in a period usually defined by conservative ascendancy, 'Reaganomics', and the rise of the Christian right.

Blood on its hands AIDS poster

AIDS poster produced by the Gran Fury group, New York, 1988. Picture credit: ©Gran Fury

This presentation will use the state response to AIDS as a lens to analyse how the epidemic further politicised LGBT communities during the late twentieth century. In California, several LGBT activists gained prominent positions in government, either in the state bureaucracy or as aides to legislators, and they could formulate an active, statist response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Stan Haddon, for instance, served as a policy adviser to David Roberti, the highest-ranking member of California’s senate, and drafted a significant portion of the state’s HIV/AIDS legislation during the 1980s. However, this interventionist approach faced substantial opposition from those who characterized HIV as a 'gay plague' and resisted any form of state expansion. This research will analyse the tension between LGBT policymakers, who increasingly viewed the state as a social policy innovator and those who believed the state should take a punitive stance towards homosexuality.

Stephen Colbrook

A former Cambridge undergraduate, Stephen Colbrook is a PhD candidate at University College London, where he is researching a dissertation on the interaction between HIV/AIDS and state policy-making in the U.S. This work will focus on the political and policy-making side of the epidemic and aims to compare the different contexts of individual states, such as California, Florida, and New Jersey.



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