covid19, HIV/AIDS, and community responses

A straight white male musician recently commented in a discussion about covid19 that covid19 and AIDS have not had the same effects on the community. I disagree.

Actually the comparison with AIDS is particularly powerful because it _did_ see a community shut down social spaces and completely change cultural practices. Gay men closed bath houses, changed the way they used beats, and started setting up community-led responses. It’s important to remember that in the late 70s and early 80s beats, bath houses, and other forms on anonymous sex were central to gay male culture in the US, UK, and Australia. Having a number of sexual partners, and being sexually active (often in public or privatised public places) was very much the norm.

There’s a substantial degree of heterocentism at work in a dismissal of the comparison of AIDS and covid. ‘We’ didn’t close down cinemas at the height of the AIDS crisis, but popular cruising spots (including queer porn cinemas) were closed in various American cities.
The gay community’s response to AIDS was impressive in part because they/we were already politically active and organised. There were grassroots networks in place to spread information.

The greatest obstacle to managing AIDS in the early days was conservative governments downplaying its significance because it was considered ‘a gay disease’.
In both cases, behavioural change is the most effective way of managing the disease.
As a side note, the majority of HIV cases (centred in Asia) are the result of intravenous drug use. We also know that sex work is another high risk activity. In the latter case, again community activist groups have been central to reducing the spread of the virus.
And, in both covid and AIDS, we know that poverty is the greatest contributing factor to mortality. Social and cultural change would reduce the spread of these viruses, specifically, reducing poverty and racism.

Stop AIDS and covid: vote, and vote for socially conscious parties.

ACON has released an updated statement on covid19 and casual sex. ACON was originally founded as a community group focussing on HIV/AIDS awareness in the gay community in Sydney. You can see how their skills in community health education regarding AIDS/HIV have stood them in good stead in terms of providing a _trusted_ source of information about covid19 for Sydney’s gay community.

1 Comment

  1. And there’s another level on which the two outbreaks bear comparison: the urge by the establishment, media, and policymakers in both eras to respond to epidemic/pandemic in terms of policing, crime, and social order (with fines, and suchlike), rather than in terms of public health.

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