New book on gay activism and HIV/AIDS

A new book released this week by research fellow at La Trobe University’s Bouverie Centre, Dr Jennifer Power, details the history of Australia’s response to AIDS with a particular focus on the role the gay community played in establishing a community-driven public health response.

Jennifer PowerIn Movement, Knowledge, Emotion: Gay activism and HIV/AIDS in Australia Dr Power argues that AIDS activism actually contributed to improving social attitudes towards gay men and lesbians in Australia at a time when negativity toward homosexuality was receiving a lot of mainstream airplay. 

‘These days people tend to think of HIV/AIDS in a global context, as a disease of poverty and underdevelopment. We sometimes forget that when AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s, people were referring to it as the ‘gay plague’,’ says Dr Power.

‘There was a genuine risk HIV/AIDS could have entrenched homophobia in Australia.  The active response of Australian gay men was central to establishing a positive outcome when dealing with the virus.’

‘Australia has been successful in their response to AIDS and we can learn a lot from its history about the role of communities in responding to illness,’ she says.

The book release coincides with next week’s 23rd Australasian HIV/AIDS conference held in Canberra. When the first of these conferences was held in 1989, the state of play regarding HIV/AIDS in Australia was very different.

‘The first Australian case of AIDS had been diagnosed only six years previously at a time when people had not even heard of HIV. There were few effective medical treatments and the world was still uncertain about how this virus would play out,’ says Dr Power.

Looking back over the decades since that first case, Australia’s response to the virus is now held up as a model of effective and innovative public health. 

Dr Power also explores the role that AIDS activists played in carving out a role for affected communities to play in the public health system and looks at the part that the gay community played in the social, medical and political response to the virus.

The book documents an important chapter in the history of public health in Australia and explores how

HIV/AIDS came to be a defining issue in the history of gay and lesbian rights in Australia.

Movement, Knowledge, Emotion: Gay activism and HIV/AIDS in Australia is primarily designed as an ebook and can be downloaded here:

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