The detailed analytical chronology “The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA: Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s” certainly brings to my own mind the political struggles in Dallas, where I was living in the 1980s, as the epidemic reached my southern conservative city about a year or two after it had started to burn in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The author is Benita Roth, Professor of Sociology, History and Women’s Studies at Binghamton University (New York State).
I had moved to Dallas from New York City at the start of 1979 to start a new job, and the relocation may have saved my life. But by early 1983, after sensational media reports (like Geraldo Rivera’s on ABC 20.20), the right wing was proposing draconian extensions to the Texas sodomy law, HR2138, trying to ban gays from almost all occupations. There was a particularly vitriolic group, Dallas Doctors Against AIDS. The Dallas Gay Alliance (in the days of Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo and the Crossroads Market on Cedar Springs) managed to keep the bill dying in committee. This is history that has been forgotten.
There was, in the national debate, over whether AIDS was primarily about “personal responsibility” and “behavior”, or whether it was about belonging to a marginalized group. Of course, it was both. But Dr. Roth’s book certainly focuses on left wing activism, based on solidarity and “intersectionality”.
I’m reminded of a sign in the recent Equality March for Pride and Unity in Washington DC. “Intersectional Resistance and Collective Liberation”. Intersectionality refers to the coming together of different groups (the “rainbow coalition” of the 90s, maybe) and the tensions that can occur about the nuances and priorities of the groups. For example, rural or inner-city African Americans (“people of color”), sometimes infected by needles and often heterosexually (especially male to female), don’t have the same perspective as urban white and economically independent cis gay males. Intersectionality is a big issue in the gay community today, as the role of not just transgender but “gender fluidity” seems emotionally disruptive to the values of the white cis gay males.
The author writes in meta mode, often telling the reader what she is going to cover, and what she has covered, as if she were teaching a course or graduate school seminar. She gives an almost biblical chronicle of ACT/UP in Los Angeles, the internal conflicts (which are a big deal for almost any activist), the role of women, the group disciplines (intersectionality and loyalty), the sometimes disastrous challenges to the power structures, then the winding down, as activists moved into other areas. She correlates it to a lot of other LA history, such as the Rodney King riots, and governor Pete Wilson’s often duplicitous behavior. She does discuss Ronald Reagan’s unwillingness to discuss AIDS at first, but I didn’t see that she covers Reagan’s previous opposition to the Briggs Initiative (concerning gay teachers) in 1978 when he was governor.
Benita emphasizes that HIV has affected women at a higher rate than most people realize, and the percentage of patients who are female and infected heterosexually continues to rise. It still seems to be a mystery today if this was completely the case in Africa in the early 1980s, although the presence of other STD’s would facilitate heterosexual transmission. She does discuss protease inhibitors and PrEP, but seems to assume that normal health insurance should always cover them. With the GOP rewriting health care now, this coverage for many gay men (MSM) would seem to be at grave risk. She also notes that the use of PrEP might have the unintended effect of making men complacent about condom use.
She makes the interesting observation that in the 1980s people tended to look at volunteering to help PWA’s as a kind of “activism”. I encountered that view in a 1986 visit to Robert Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim. People would move in and out of volunteering and paid jobs in caregiving, as at hospices, as if that were political behavior.
The author sometimes does cover the existential political threat that AIDS seemed to create to the male gay community. I remember the night in 1984 that “they closed the baths in San Francisco.” But the effort to close them in Los Angeles was met with resistance, a fear that they could lead to closing of bars and any meeting places (like in Nigeria today).
Her discussion of the blowup at the 1992 GOP convention reminds me of Barbara Bush’s speech on family values. “You don’t have to be married,” she said, “but if you have children, they have to become the first priority in your life.” But in practice, the right wing wants to make a moral case against childlessness, citing population demographics.
She also discusses “CNN” (“Clean Needles Now”). I’m reminded of now VP Mike Pence’s idea in 2000 that you could control AIDS with conversion therapy.
|Title, Subtitle:||“The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA; Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s”|
|Publication:||Cambridge University Press, 249 pages, paper, indexed, appendix; 7 chapters; detailed TOC; complimentary paper copy provided to me for review|
(Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)