Purdue University Graduate School
NEB Dissertation 2019-07-21 template correction.pdf (1.49 MB)

AIDS and the Politics of Disability in the 1980s

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posted on 2019-10-16, 16:58 authored by Nancy E BrownNancy E Brown

This dissertation examines the political response of gay and lesbian organizations to the HIV/AIDS crisis through the lens of disability. When the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) formed in the 1970s, their early political efforts confronted the stigma and exclusion associated with the American Psychiatric Association’s disabling label. In the 1980s, gay and lesbian organizations faced a deadly epidemic—AIDS. The high cost of medical care left people with AIDS destitute. NGTF pressed the Social Security Administration to modify their disability criteria to recognize AIDS and ARC as qualifying disabilities. Fear and homophobia left people with AIDS vulnerable to employment, housing and medical discrimination as well as social ostracism. Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund countered AIDS discrimination in New York through collaborative efforts with city and state agencies. Disability rights codes and laws offered people with AIDS some protection against discrimination. The Task Force, the Gay Rights National Lobby and the Disability Rights Defense & Education Fund joined the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in 1982. While the Conference did not engage in the campaign for gay and lesbian rights in the 1980s, their extended legislative crusade for the Civil Rights Restoration Act would bring AIDS onto the battlefield. This study finds these various antecedents came into play during the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to the extent that gay and lesbian organizations could describe the ADA as an “AIDS bill” in terms of both their political participation and the text protecting people with contagious diseases who were not a threat.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • History

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Nancy Gabin

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Kathryn Cramer Brownell

Additional Committee Member 2

Wendy Kline

Additional Committee Member 3

Yvonne Pitts