• Katie Washburn

Lesbians and the AIDS epidemic

  • HIV first broke out in the 80s, it disproportionately affected gay man making research for it very scarce due to mass amounts of homophobia.

  • At first it was simply called the ‘gay cancer’ while religous figures thought it was their punishment for sodomy.

  • It wasn’t even given the proper name of HIV until it was contracted by straight people as well.

  • Mass amounts of doctors and nurses refused to treat patients due to hysteria and lack of research over how it spread.

  • They thought that even just touching HIV patients would get you sick as well.

  • To make up for this shortfall, Lesbians in mass volunteered at hospitals.

  • Despite previous community fighting.

  • Most gay men were not out to their families so lesbians were there to give them any sort of help and support that they needed, hospital visits, social security forms, and befriending.

  • In 1983, “men who have sex with men” were banned from giving blood to prevent the spread of HIV with blood transfusions.

  • This caused a sharp depletion in the amount of blood available.

  • Regular blood transfusions were needed in the treatment of HIV patients.

  • The ‘Women’s Caucus of San Diego Democratic Club’ formed the ‘San Diego Blood Sisters’.

  • It was connected to a private San Diego blood bank that allowed donors to designate who would get the blood, in this case making sure it went directly to HIV patients.

  • The blood drives were quite regular, usually a few a month in some cases.

  • This soon spread across the country in many major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City etc.

  • Ran with slogans like “Our Boys Need Our Blood”

  • These drives ran throughout the 80s and into the 90s

  • Lesbians felt some amount of guilt when looking at their fellow LGBT community members being killed so easily while it barely touched them

  • This created a stronger community, challenged injustice and created some amount of conversations about a topic the government did not want to touch

  • The Reagan administration was quite famously hands-off during this crisis.

  • Pre-HIV there was mass hostility between gay men and lesbians in the 70s

  • Lesbian feminists felt that all men were unsympathetic to the plight of women and that gay men could be just the same as straight.

  • Lesbians separatists wanted to cut themselves off from anything to do with men no matter what sexuality.

  • The lesbian community also started food banks.

  • All of these factors helped to bridge the animosity for the most part.

  • Only two medical professionals in Salt Lake City were willing to care for AIDS patients, both lesbians.

  • HIV is still massively stigmatized causing a slow burning progress towards a cure.

  • Now we have more education on how to prevent it with safer sex measures and PrEP.

  • Originally, it started as the GLBT acronym with the focus on men's issues.

  • Sexism is still very powerful in the community today.

  • There are thousands of gay bars across the country while lesbian bars are rapidly closing.

  • AIDS started the idea of “gay/lesbian solidarity”.

  • Lesbians carried activism during the HIV crisis while gay men could not

  • Caused a rise in feminism in the whole community thus this pushed the change to LGBT, pushing Lesbian issues to the forefront.

Work Cited

Brammer, John Paul. “Meet the 'Quiet Heroes' Who Cared for AIDS Patients in

the '80s.” Them., Them., 23 Aug. 2018, www.them.us/story/quiet-heroes-doc.

Brekke, Kira. “How Lesbians' Role in the AIDS Crisis Brought Gay Men and

Women Together.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 4 Apr. 2017,



Listeri, Kate. “The Lesbian 'Blood Sisters' Who Cared for Gay Men When

Doctors Were Too Scared to .” Inews.co.uk, 21 Aug. 2020,



“The ‘L’ in LGBT, and Why Order Matters.” The Foreword,


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