Chicago's African American Gays and the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
(Full-length interviews are available on Chicago Gay History Copyright Prairie Avenue Productions, LLC)
The Early Response
In spite of their quick response to the AIDS crisis, African American gay activists were widely ignored by African American media in their efforts to prevent HIV infections. Upon the Chicago Black Gay Christian Conference, on December 10th 1982, David Wright, president of the National Coalition for Black Gays – Chicago Chapter, began offering HIV education and prevention to Chicago’s African American gay community.
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Teresa Dobbins talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
Workshops at Foster's and Martin's Den
In 1983, Foster’s, a popular gay bar, agreed to have four workshops on HIV. The following month activist Richard Gray and Henry Martin, owner of Martin’s Den, announced a series of workshops entitled “HIV and Health in the Gay Community.” Although the African American gay community of Chicago had decided to deal with the AIDS crisis, African American media turned a blind eye to their action.
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Max Smith talk on the Workshops at Martin's Den
NCBG and Operation Push: Discrimination Case
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Vernita Gray talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
As a result, on September 20th 1983, NCBG announced that the Chicago Department of Health presented a case of discrimination against lesbians and gays by the local media and Operation Push. The Chicago Defender and Chicago Metro News, both African American newspapers, had indeed refused to publish news releases submitted over the past four months concerning local African American lesbian and gay community response to the AIDS crisis.
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Chicago Choreographer Joel Hall talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Lloyd Kelly talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
The Late Response
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Sanford Gaylord talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
Gay Life, an early Chicago gay magazine, always supported NCBG causes and started to publish full-length articles on the AIDS epidemic in Chicago's African American communities in the mid-1980s. The article reproduced shows that 30% of AIDS cases in Chicago were African American and describes several specificities of the AIDS epidemic in the Black community.
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Otis Richardson talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
In September 1985, Kupana Network, led by Richard Grey, sponsored a conference on “Black People and AIDS,” at the Woodson Regional Library, on the South Side.
ORAL HISTORY: Watch Activist Sherri Jackson talk on the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic
- Not for Whites Only: 62 Blacks Among Chicago AIDS Cases,” Gay Life, Thursday, August 1st 1985.
- “Sept 28 Conference on Blacks and AIDS,” Gay Life, Thursday August 29th 1985.