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Before AIDS

Before AIDS chronicles the development of gay health services in the 1970s as gay men faced public health challenges stemming from both their political marginalization and disease. Activists using tools and tactics from across their era's political landscape built a nationwide gay medical system, changing ideas about sexuality and health.

Before AIDS
Gay Health Politics in the 1970s

Katie Batza

2018 | 192 pages | Cloth $45.00
American History / Gay Studies/Lesbian Studies/Queer Studies / Medicine
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Introduction. Fighting Epidemics and Ignorance
Chapter 1. Reimagining Gay Liberation
Chapter 2. Beyond Gay Liberation
Chapter 3. Gay Health Harnesses the State
Chapter 4. Redefining Gay Health
Chapter 5. The Gay Health Network Meets AIDS
Epilogue. AIDS and the State Enmeshed


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


The Holiday Club's large sign, which encased the top quarter of the building and consisted of colorful, shimmering dish-sized sequins, made the architecture of the Howard Brown Health Center, which sat across the street at the corner of Irving Park and North Sheridan, especially unremarkable. The center first came to my attention as a building (not even an organization) in 2002 with the onset of my first Chicago winter, when I realized its gray concrete and muted tile façade provided a shield from the winter wind off Lake Michigan as I walked to and from the "El" stop closest to my apartment. Having grown up in Atlanta, I had never experienced an upper midwestern winter but quickly learned that wind defense during a six-block walk warranted switching to the other side of the street. Thus I abandoned the colorful Holiday Club for the more protected, if drab, Howard Brown building. As I became better acquainted with my new city, I learned that the Howard Brown Health Center served the LGBTQ community specifically, and the building I had come to think of fondly as my personal windshield was just one of the organization's many outposts. Curiosity piqued, I began to spend my long and solitary commutes imagining the organization's origins and how it fit into to my growing understanding of Chicago's LGBTQ geography and history. In this way, the breathtakingly cold and beautiful winters of Chicago combined with the sturdy impermeability of a serendipitously located health clinic to inspire what eventually became this book.

Before conducting any research, I imagined that Howard Brown originated in the Chicago gay community's response to the AIDS crisis. I assumed the same to be true of other well-known clinics serving the LGBTQ community around the country, including Whitman-Walker in Washington, D.C., New York's Callen-Lorde, and Boston's Fenway. My daydreamed history charted the birth and growth of gay medical clinics and research institutions amid bleak national fiscal and political realities, a gay sexual culture that equated sexual health with sexual oppression, and one of the deadliest epidemics in history. The plot unfolded in my mind like a bizarre historian's telenovela with conjectured tragedy and fantasized heroism, not to mention political drama and a fantastic soundtrack. It transformed my commute from an hour-long battle against motion sickness and claustrophobia into something far more interesting.

After many weeks of crafting this surmised history during bumpy and noisy train rides without even so much as a Google search worth of research, I decided that my fascination warranted a study of how gay community health clinics factored into the early response to AIDS. In the initial stages of research, I found that many gay community clinics actually originated in the 1970s, most of them in the last few years of the decade, but some dating back as early as 1971—a full decade before the first identified AIDS case. This realization left me wondering how these clinics came to be and just what gay clinics did before AIDS. That was the moment that my daydreamed commuter entertainment transformed into a real research project, the moment of conception for Before AIDS.

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