Confronting Itself: The AIDS Crisis and the LGBT Community in Houston



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This dissertation examines the development of Houston’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community from the earliest political organizing in the 1950s through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Relying on archival materials, newspapers, and oral histories it tells their story and reveals that despite a detrimental social and political environment it managed to create and initiate a response to AIDS that not only served its own members but also contributed to national efforts in fighting the disease. By the 1950s, perhaps the earliest gay activists in Houston began to push the limits of their secret existence. They first sought the right to socialize safely in a local bar without police harassment. Their organizational efforts were hindered from within by the elements of diversity and barriers supported by class, race, and gender. Many were also reluctant to be publically identified as homosexual based on the hostile socio-political climate of the day. Only after the radical gay liberation movement expanded in the early 1970s did organizations become more visible in Houston. These factors were compounded in the mid-1980s by a strong conservative backlash that threatened their hard-fought gains. Even to this day, Houston has no law protecting the rights of its citizens against discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
In an examination of the AIDS years in Houston, however, a vital lasting legacy becomes apparent. The city’s AIDS movement, comprised of organizations and groups created by the LGBT community, remained the framework and foundation for confronting the disease long after the threat had moved beyond its own members. Houston’s level of LGBT social organization and movement activism reveal that less studied communities in cities outside the nation’s older and larger coastal metropolises provide rich contributions to our understanding of these movements nationally.



Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), Texas politics, LGBT activism, Activism, New South, Conservatism