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Lectures from the Allen Room & Wertheim Study: Race and Sexual Politics in the AIDS Crisis : Chicago, 1981-1996


October 17, 2013

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Timothy Stewart-Winter, a writer in residence at the library's Allen Room and an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark, will present a lecture on the racial and sexual politics of the urban response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, drawn from his forthcoming study of Chicago and the rise of urban gay politics since the 1950s. While the federal government’s response to AIDS was negligent, this lecture focuses on the less-well known story of how the epidemic intersected with urban politics in the nation's largest cities. The trajectory of the crisis was shaped by the conservative ascendancy in Washington through its devastating impact on epidemiological research, but also because it unfolded in decaying inner-city hospitals, in fledgling volunteer-run gay agencies run on a shoestring, and in municipal health departments already overwhelmed by the Reagan administration’s cuts to public health and social services. The lecture will historicize the impact of the particular shades of stigma and political powerlessness attached to the risk groups affected. For many middle-class gay men, AIDS rapidly drained their savings, led to their being fired or forced to quit, and led their insurance companies to cancel their insurance plans. Poor people of color often lacked health insurance or access to medical care in the first place, and experienced the crisis in the context of unemployment, poverty, and addiction. In addition, by exposing the gap in infrastructure and health care access between poor black neighborhoods and the North Side’s more prosperous, mostly white gay enclaves, AIDS brought into relief some unintended consequences of the forms that gay political mobilization took in the 1970s.