We Are Everywhere: Lesbians in the Archive

Women and the AIDS Crisis

Excerpt of a NYT article from the July 3, 1981 edition

On July 3rd, 1981, the New York Times quietly reported of a “Rare Cancer seen in 41 Homosexuals.” Early news coverage of the AIDS crisis, like the below 1983 article “Homosexuals Confronting a Time of Change,” characterized AIDS as a disease of only gay men, highlighting what was seen to be “differences in styles of life for homosexual men and women.” Even today, lesbians are frequently characterized only as the nurses of the AIDS crisis, remembered only for the role they played in caring for gay men. Though medical caretaking was a huge part of lesbian AIDS activism, this characterization erases the direct impact AIDS had on lesbian communities. Lesbians did die of AIDS. In 1991, about forty percent of HIV-positive individuals and twelve percent of AIDS patients were women. The definition of AIDS used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, was skewed towards men’s experience with the disease, failing to recognize opportunistic infections that commonly affected women with AIDS, like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and cervical cancer. As a result, 65% of HIV-positive women died without ever being diagnosed with AIDS. These women, suffering and sick, were ineligible for vital healthcare provided by the Division of AIDS services, like at-home nursing attendants. The CDC’s exclusionary definition led to intense medical misogyny: clinical trials for developing HIV/AIDS treatments excluded “pregnant and non-pregnant” women. This case aims to uncover the critical role lesbians played in the AIDS crisis. Lesbians were caretakers, activists, lawyers, protestor, artists, and historians. They were everywhere.

In the excerpt below from “Homosexuals Confronting a Time of Change,” the sections “Different Approaches to Male Living” and “Homosexual Women: A Different View” provide a glance into contemporary characterization of the differences between gay men and lesbians.

Excerpt of a NYT article from the June 16, 1983 edition