Historian Edmund White once claimed that prior to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, gay pride did not exist. 1John Strausbaugh, The Village: 400 years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues: A History of Greenwich Village (New York, NY: Ecoo, 2014), 457. In the place of gay pride was “gay fear and gay isolation and gay distrust and gay self-hatred.” 2 George Chauncey, “A Gay World, Vibrant and Forgotten,” The New York Times, June 25, 1994. While gay clubs, bathhouses, and bars began to appear in their earliest variations in New York City in the final quarter of the 19th century, the earliest years of the 20thcentury saw the emergence of an unusually vibrant, working-class, gay community in New York City. 3 Ibid  Changing social attitudes towards sex in 1920s New York City, bolstered by the energy of the Progressive Era and the liberal culture of the Roaring ‘20s, allowed for a proud LGBTQ+ community to emerge in its own nooks and crannies of New York City. LGBTQ+ Historian George Chauncey claims that,

Openly gay men drank with sailors and other working men at waterfront dives and entertained them at Bowery saloons; well-known gay people casually mixed with other patrons at Harlem’s basement cabarets; lesbians ran speakeasies where Greenwich Village bohemians — straight and gay — gathered to read their verse.”4 Chauncey, “A Gay World, Vibrant and Forgotten”

However, whatever societal acceptance of this burgeoning LGBTQ+ community existed in New York City ended as the Great Depression swept the United States, effectively destroying the liberal cultural attitudes of Progressivism and the Roaring ‘20s. 5Natalie Zarrelli, “The Incredible Forgotten Queer Nightlife Scene of the 1920s,” Atlas Obscura, June 12, 2016, accessed February 18, 2018, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-the-early-20th-century-america-was-awash-in-incredible-queer-nightlife. Gone were the vibrant drag shows that The New York Age claimed saw “color prejudice…thrown to the winds, as Nordic contestants mixed freely with their darkskinned [sic] brethren,” events that even “the police did not find necessary to raid.”6“Hamilton Lodge, No. 710 In Annual Masquerade And Civic Ball,” The New York Age, March 5, 1927. Instead, the 1930s forced many members of the LGBTQ+ community into a closet that had not existed ten years prior. 7 Zarelli, “The Incredible Forgotton Queer Nightlife Scene of the 1920s”

Gay Liberation Front march on Times Square in New York, N.Y., 1969.
Youth members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in 1969. (Diana Davies, “Gay Liberation Front marches on Times Square, New York City, 1969,” digital image, New York Public Library Digital Collections, 2017, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-57b8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.)

Despite New York City’s fading cultural liberalism, it was in New York’s Greenwich Village, a pre-established haven for the culturally, racially, and ideologically diverse, that the LGBTQ+ community crafted the beginnings of an artistic, sexual, cultural, and ideological renaissance. The culturally conservative attitudes that arose in 1930s New York City allowed for a cultural exodus to occur, one that pushed artists and bohemians into the established artistic oasis in downtown Manhattan. Along with the artists and bohemians came the the communists, the anarchists, and the “queers and fairies,” in the words of Chauncey. 8George Chauncey et al., Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: BasicBooks, 1994), 244Drawn to the eccentricity of the Village and the open-minded ideologies of it’s residents, the LGBTQ+ community was able to flee the conservative ideologies of New York and in some cases, the greater United States in order to find social harmony amongst the bohemians of Greenwich Village. 9Ibid

Just as World War II resparked the American economy and revitalized New York City as an American cultural capital, the Village continued to grow as an eccentric alternative to the glitz and glamour of 1940s Midtown Manhattan.10Strausbaugh, The Village, 216. However, despite the growth of cultural influence in Greenwich Village that occurred during the War, mainstream post-war American society was not as accepting of the eccentricities and ideologies that Greenwich Village housed. The McCarthy-ist “witch-hunts” of the early Cold War were not reserved solely for government officials who were suspected communists and, in fact, the Second Red Scare allowed for an increase in blatant homophobia as the LGBTQ+ community was targeted in “The Lavender Scare.” 11David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Civil Service, 1945-1975 (2000), 219. McCarthy’s anti-communist sentiments were often accompanied by homophobic remarks, commonly referring to the two groups as the “communists and the queers” in speeches.12Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 21-22.Greenwich Village was just as much a hotbed for communism and anarchism following WWII as it was a gay haven, and as such, the neighborhood was the target of scorn from mainstream American society. 13Strausbaugh, The Village, 223.However, despite exterior societal, medical, and governmental voices condemning LGBTQ+ communities like those in the Village, the 1950s saw the establishment of a burgeoning civil rights campaign that would one day become the LGBTQ+ rights movement. 14 It was during this time period that President Eisenhower passed Executive Order 10450, and the psychiatric field deemed homosexuality a curable mental disorder. In the words of LGBTQ+ Historian, Charles Kaiser, “Despite its many hardships, gay life in New York City in the fifties offered more possibilities than it did anywhere else.” 15Charles Kaiser, The Gay Metropolis: the Landmark History of Gay Life in America (New York: Grove Press, 2007), 88. The Mattachine Society, an organization dedicated to repealing homophobic laws and preventing discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, established its second chapter outside of San Francisco in New York City in 1955. 16 “Mattachine Society, Inc. of New York Records 1951-1976.” Mattachine Society, Inc. of New York Records. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://archives.nypl.org/mss/1911. The group saw it’s most active period in the mid-1960s as the gay rights movement sprang to action against sodomy laws and housing discrimination. 17 Ibid The “Sip-in” protest of 1966 saw anti-gay liquor laws overturned when members of the NYC chapter of the Mattachine Society went to Julius, a tavern based in Greenwich Village, announced their sexuality, ordered alcoholic beverages, and sued for discrimination upon refusal. 18“Gay Rights,” History.com, 2017, accessed February 18, 2018, http://www.history.com/topics/history-of-gay-rights. These protests, based on the civil disobedience practices of African Americans in the American south, saw minor victories given to New York’s LGBTQ+ communities on the path towards equal rights and societal acceptance.19Faderman, The Gay Revolution, 179.

However, the burgeoning gay rights movement that existed prior to June 28th, 1969, pales in comparison to the LGBTQ+ rights movement spurned following the Stonewall Riots. What truly occurred that night at the Stonewall Inn is not known. According to LGBTQ+ historian Linda Hirshman, “The events at the Stonewall Inn in the early morning of June 28, 1969, are the most contested hours in gay history. People who were there dispute each other’s accounts and people even dispute who was there at all.” 20Linda R. Hirshman, Victory: the Triumphant Gay Revolution(New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2017), 88.

However, despite a lack of concrete evidence to support the happenings of the night, it is undeniable that the Stonewall Riots were a unifiying catalyst in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights across New York City, the United States, and the world. The Stonewall Riots saw the Mattachine Society, a group that advocated for mere assimilation of LGBTQ+ individuals into mainstream society, fall in favor of more radical LGBTQ+ inclusion groups, including the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). 21Hirshman, Victory, 92-93.GLF fought for the creation of specific spaces for sexual minorities, eradicating the more passive Mattachine Society-esque LGBTQ+ rights movement , and were key in reviving a politically and sexually liberated LGBTQ+ community in New York City, the likes of which had not been seen since the fall of Progressivism. 22Faderman, The Gay Revolution, 196-197.

However, the emergence of such a proud liberated culture amongst LGBTQ+ communities across America did not emerge without consideration of the risks that such a culture may bring. While American society viewed the sexual relations of the LGBTQ+ community even prior to the AIDS Crisis as risky and promiscuous, activists within the community emerged as infrastructural leaders in their efforts to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.23 Strausbaugh, The Village, 537-538 Activists worked to ensure that sexual behavior remained safe in gay clubs, bathhouses, and other popular “cruising” areas in the Village by providing condoms and other forms of sexual protection, and through establishing gay clinics and health centers that provided testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and hepatitis, the diseases that were of the the largest concern to the LGBTQ+ community in the 1970s. 24 Ibid This new generation of vocal activists included men like Paul Popham and Larry Kramer, men who advocated for the well-being of their greater community, men who would one day fight for the lives of thousands of their peers during the height of the AIDS Crisis. 25Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1988), 120. By creating an LGBTQ+ movement in the Village that fought for radical and immediate change, post-Stonewall LGBTQ+ rights’ activists were able to make mainstream the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community and to pave the path for further equality for sexual minorities.

 

 

“There was a new virus that was killing gay men. Jesus Christ, it could be all over the place by now. God only knew how many people were going to die.”

– Randy Shilts (And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic)


121130031636-01-aids-1130-horizontal-large-gallery
Gay activist David Kirby on his deathbed at his family home in Ohio. Having recently reconciled with his family, Kirby is held by his father, Bill. (Photo by
Therese Frare, courtesy of Time Magazine)

The history of the AIDS Crisis is not an easy history to trace by any means, mainly due to the fact that the epidemic is fragmented in its origins; it is simply not feasible to identify a single individual or even a single community as the sole cause of the global epidemic that has killed more than 35 million over the course of nearly forty years. In researching the origins of the AIDS epidemic, one must ask themselves, “Does a virus’ origin matter more than the forces that lead said virus to reach epidemic levels?” Do we trace the history of the AIDS Crisis from the Belgian-Congolese city of Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), the city that saw then-unknown AIDS emerge at the turn of the 20th century, more than six decades before AIDS would first emerge in the western medical world?26Victoria A. Harden, AIDS at 30: A History (Washington, D.C.: Potomac, 2012), 6. Or is it perhaps more reasonable to look to Gaëtan Dugas, the French-Canadian flight attendant who was long thought to be North America’s “patient zero,” the man who may have spread the virus to hundreds of unwitting men before he himself died of AIDS in 1984? 27Randy Shilts, And The Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1988), 21-22. These two examples —one a story of a colonial African metropolis and one a story of a handsome gay Canadian man— illustrate the split nature of the origin story of the AIDS Crisis as we know it today, an epidemic that has ravaged minority groups domestically and globally.

While it is not possible to calculate what exact sources lead AIDS to ravage minority communities across the United States and the world as a whole, it is possible to understand the impact of said forces and the impact of the AIDS Crisis as a whole. The reports on the emergence of strange symptoms in sexually active gay men started in the summer of 1981 as the CDC published reports on a group of five gay men who contracted Pneumocystis pneumonia, a rare, opportunistic lung infection. 28M. S. Gottlieb, “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles,” Morbidity and Morality Report 30, no. 21 (June 5, 1981): , accessed February 19, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/june_5.htm. The editor of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report claimed that this strange outbreak… “suggest[ed] an association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and Pneumocystis pneumonia in this population.”29Ibid The medical world was shaken. Young gay men, members of a population that prided and continues today to pride itself today on physical appearance and health, withered away in hospital beds in San Francisco and New York, losing weight and contracting rare opportunistic parasites and viruses.30Lawrence K. Altman, “RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS,” The New York Times, July 3, 1981. Cancers like Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a disease that had previously only been linked to older men of Ashkenazi Jewish and Mediterranean descent, grew with worrying speed in the LGBTQ+ community, scarring the immunodeficient with deep purple, bruise-like lesions. 31 Ibid By the end of 1981, 121 gay men had died. 32“The AIDS Epidemic: 1981-1987,” The New York Times, 1999, , accessed February 19, 2018, https://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/science/aids/timeline80-87.html. That number grew to 447 deaths in 1982 and grew still to a staggering 1,476 deaths in 1983. 33 Ibid


It would be easy for one to craft a timeline of the statistics and numbers of the AIDS Crisis and to expand on the facts of the era, but if I were to do so, I ultimately would take away from the overall goal of my project: to provide a platform for others’ voices and stories, to allow myself merely to share the information I have been told. If I were to write at length on the History of the AIDS Crisis, offering opinion and bias, I would detract from my overall goal of impartial arbitration.

While I have provided a basic framework knowledge of the beginnings of the AIDS Crisis, it is crucial that any who take the time view my project in depth look at the primary and secondary sources about the history of the AIDS Crisis.

More statistics on the AIDS Crisis can be found through the CDC’s National Prevention Information Network. The NPIN provides extensive timelines of the AIDS Crisis in the United States from the beginning of the epidemic, and also offers information on the current fight against the domestic and global AIDS epidemic, along with prevention plans for those most at risk of contracting HIV. The NPIN also provides a medical history of the Crisis and describes the science behind how HIV functions. This website provides a more “black-and-white” perspective of the history of the Crisis and is an invaluable resource for any who wish to understand more about AIDS as a disease.

The primary and secondary sources that I found most useful are available under the “Resources” tab of this digital archive. While there are seemingly infinite primary sources on the AIDS Crisis, my research section includes primary sources specific to the cultural research I conducted, and includes images, video, and media that I was able to access through the New York Public Library’s Gay and Lesbian Collections & HIV/AIDS Collections. My research in the archival collections lead me to view private home videos of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers in the final stages of AIDS, posters and placards from ACT UP Protests, and artwork created for the NYPL’s first ever Day Without Art, an annual internationally-honored remembrance day for those lost to AIDS. 34 Access to these archival materials is available through the New York Public Library’s Gay and Lesbian Collections & HIV/AIDS Collections. Materials can be requested online through the previous link and can be accessed in person at the NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

In addition to my primary sources, my secondary sources have shaped greatly the work that I have created. Without background information on the history of the LGBTQ+ community in New York City, historic homophobia in the United States, and the origins of the AIDS virus, I would not be able to share the stories that I have collected thus far. Without providing background information both on the Village and AIDS, my project would not be cohesive and I would be unable to properly craft an online archive on the Cultural Effects of the AIDS Crisis in the LGBTQ+ Community of Greenwich Village. Some of the most influential secondary sources that I have accessed include George Chauncey’s Gay New York, Victoria A. Harden’s AIDS at 30: A History, and John Strasbaugh’s The Village: 400 years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues (A History of Greenwich Village.) Additionally, the historiographical research focused on the AIDS Crisis that I studied, including work by Jonathan Bell, Darius Bost, and Jennifer Brier, is centered around the fact that AIDS itself is “history in motion,” in the words of Julio Capó Jr. for the Journal of American History.35“Interchange: HIV/AIDS and U.S. History,” Journal of American History 104, no. 2 (September 1, 2017): , doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jax176. These literary sources are just a handful of the many secondary sources that I have relied on in my research, some of which are not focused specifically on AIDS, but rather, provide critical background information for my project. Despite the different lens that these works have provided, all of the included sources have assisted me greatly in my work and are vital tools for my readers in understanding my work and the AIDS Crisis as a whole 36For links to the works mentioned in my bibliography, please look to the “Resources” tab.