Bioethics: ACT UP

I went to Deborah K. Gould’s talk about “Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS,” with Heather Love as the respondent.  Gould talked about her work in ACT UP and the role of homosexual individuals during the outbreak of AIDS.  Initially it was believed that sexual or gender outlaws would not become politically active due to the stigma they already faced.  Instead, these individuals aggressively lobbied.  Fear did not stop them; instead it propelled them forwards into action.  Gould claimed this demonstrated to the world that the gay community was as actively responsible as any other group of people.  She argued that this struggle against AIDS actually nurtured a sense of pride for some members of the gay community, particularly in San Francisco.  It showed the world they weren’t “giddy, irresponsible queens,” according to Gould.  This active involvement represents a slim silver lining to a horrible, devastating epidemic.  This perspective could be seen as quite controversial as many might claim that nothing good could emerge from the spread of the AIDS.  It is, however, heartening to find good in bad; and having the common enemy of AIDS helped unite individuals, empower them, and foster a sense of community.  Gould explained that ACT UP helped connect communities through the sanctioning and thereby normalizing of anger and other feelings long buried in gay and lesbian communities.

Gould elaborated on this notion through three major themes of: ambivalence, vibration, and queer.  Lesbian and gay communities felt a deep ambivalence about self and society because of their oppression.  However, vibration also threaded through the population as these communities were excited to join together through their fight against AIDS.  This relates to Gould’s previous provocative points about some of the positive aspects of the AIDS epidemic. Lastly, Gould claims “queer” experienced a rebirth around 1990 as individuals reflected on their selves and community, and felt validated, as mentioned above, in their anger towards a hetero-normative world.

My question to the class is: The view that there was a silver lining to the AIDS epidemic can be seen as quite provocative.  However, if the epidemic had not galvanized and united the queer community, how politically active and empowered would the gay community be today? Would some other event have had the same effect; would its repercussions have had to be as disastrous and widespread as AIDs?

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