Guest: Ann Northrop, longtime journalist and activist. Photo: Bill Bahlman, Gay USA TV
Part 1 (August 1, 2018)
Part 2 (September 1, 2018)
The AIDS crisis exacted a terrible toll on LGBTQ people and other populations. In the early years of the epidemic, an AIDS diagnosis was almost invariably fatal. In the U.S., the groups most affected were gay men, intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs, and Haitians. Because gay men were among the first populations to be identified as high risk, AIDS was known in the early years as a gay disease, and because of that, people with AIDS were highly stigmatized. In fact, before the disease was called AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), it was called GRID — Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease.
Barely a decade after the Stonewall riots, which marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement and an increased level of visibility and freedom for LGBTQ people, the growing AIDS epidemic precipitated a backlash. The federal government had sprung into action when a just a handful of Americans contracted Legionnaire’s disease. But it was almost completely unresponsive during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, as dozens of initial cases became hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands. Notoriously and emblematically, President Ronald Reagan didn’t publicly utter the word AIDS until several years into the epidemic. The general public sentiment ranged from indifference to “you brought this on yourself” hostility.
Affected and infected populations had to be activists in ways that had little parallel with other diseases. LGBTQ women were in one of the population groups least at risk for contracting the disease, yet many of them played very important roles in AIDS activism. What drew them into the movement?
The author David B. Feinberg wrote, in his slightly veiled autobiographical second novel, Spontaneous Combustion: "I was especially impressed by the glorious lesbians at ACT UP. I was convinced that dykes respresented the culmination of tens of thousands of years of evolution; it was clear that they were a higher life form."
In this two part series, OutCaster Lauren talks with one of those truly glorious lesbians, Ann Northrop, a longtime journalist and activist. She is the co-host of Gay USA, TV’s weekly LGBT news hour. During the years at the height of the epidemic, she was active in New York’s ACT UP – the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — an influential group that countered public indifference and worked to spur the government into action.
At the end of part 2, Lauren comments on the feeling that her generation is adrift, disconnected from important pieces of LGBTQ history, and how a lack of context in her HIV education in school contributed to that feeling.
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