February is LGBT History Month here in the UK – a month dedicated to celebrating the lives and achievements of the LGBT community. And what better reason to celebrate than to look at the huge amount of progress made in the fight against HIV and AIDS since its origins in the late 1970s/early 1980s?
When AIDS was claiming the lives of its first sufferers in 1980s America, it was largely ignored as a ‘homosexual problem’ – the ‘gay plague’ was of little concern or interest to many of the health professionals, politicians, or members of the public.
When the numbers of deaths kept rising, it wasn’t until heterosexual members of the public were at risk that the media sat up and started to pay attention. Only when it became clear that AIDS could be transferred through blood transfusions did people start to listen. But this delay cost lives. Thousands of them. Maybe hundreds of thousands.
At the start of the month, former New York City mayor Ed Koch died at the age of 88. He was mayor in NYC at the time of the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and did practically nothing about it. Certainly, nothing that cost money, nothing concrete. Theories abound regarding his sexuality – whether his lack of action around the AIDS epidemic was to keep his own sexuality under wraps by paying little attention to the ‘gay health crisis’. Whatever the reason, it is clear that his lack of real, decisive action cost the lives of many thousands of New Yorkers. (For more information about Ed Koch and his AIDS legacy, this article is well worth a read)
But how far we have come, medically, socially and politically. In the UK there is comprehensive medical care available, including taking care of your mental health as well as your physical health. (Please note: I have no first-hand experience of this – my only knowledge is through following this blog, and his related Twitter account.) We have openly gay celebrities, sportsmen and sportswomen, even MPs. While we do not yet have laws in place that will allow equal marriage, steps have been made in the right direction. Civil partnerships are a start, but many believe they don’t go far enough. Whatever your personal beliefs, it is clear that the progress being made is real, and that it will continue.
This February for LGBT History Month I will be celebrating how much progress has been made here in the UK for the gay community, particularly in terms of health and health education. What about you?
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON by Randy Shilts. The definitive history of the origins and spread of AIDS in the 1980s. A masterpiece of investigative journalism, a book that will stay with you for a long time.
CITY OF NIGHT by John Rechy. The book that lifted the lid on the gay sexual subculture in 1960s America. A groundbreaking novel and an enduring classic.