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social sciences

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New York City  
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Since the cause of the disease was not known at first, few treatment options existed. Moreover, once AIDS was diagnosed in the early years, many gay men died very quickly. Soon the gay male community in New York City was physically and emotionally devastated. Care for the vast numbers of dying men was the preeminent need in the early days of the epidemic.

Until 1984, when a particular virus was identified as the cause of AIDS, gay men vigorously debated the possible causes of the syndrome and what if anything they could do to prevent its spread.

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One of the first to rally the gay community to combat the epidemic was Larry Kramer. In 1977, Larry Kramer had published Faggots, a controversial novel that portrayed gay male life in a highly negative manner. He focused on the emotional damage that he believed was caused by a promiscuous lifestyle.

The AIDS epidemic seemed to suggest that there was a health hazard as well. In 1981, Kramer wrote in the New York Native, a gay newspaper, that "something we are doing is ticking off the time bomb that is causing the breakdown of immunity." Soon after, he called together a group of friends in order to raise money to combat the epidemic. Out of that fundraiser, Kramer and his friends founded Gay Men's Health Crisis, the nation's first AIDS organization and still one of the largest.

Six years later, Kramer felt that neither the community nor health officials had responded adequately. Again he called a meeting and founded another group, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an activist organization that soon set up chapters across the country and demonstrated against the failure of both Federal and local health officials to adopt more vigorous efforts to oppose the epidemic.

It was during the 1980s, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, that the New York City Council finally passed a civil rights bill that protected gay men and lesbians from discrimination in housing and employment.

In response to the many challenges faced by the partners and caretakers of gay men seriously ill with AIDS, the gay political groups and AIDS activists exerted political pressure for expanded rights, including the right to visit and stay with dying partners, to inherit leases on apartments shared by longtime lovers, and other benefits. In 1989, a New York Court awarded longtime gay and lesbian partners the right to continue to live in an apartment after a lover's death. This right was reinforced in 1993 when it became possible for gay and lesbian couples to register as domestic partners.

Angels in America: New York in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, Tony Kushner's play Angels in America loomed over the political and cultural scene in New York City as the dialectical summary of American political history, gay liberation, and the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic. Kushner's play mapped the queer political imagination in an era of political reaction and commercialism. Angels in America played in San Francisco, London, and Frankfurt, but it was set primarily in New York and sang its fantasia on gay themes with a New York accent.

After the passage of the gay and lesbian civil rights bill in 1986, the glbtq community played an increasingly larger role on New York City's political stage. The community was instrumental in the election of David Dinkins, New York's first black mayor, in 1989. In 1991, Tom Duane was elected to the City Council, becoming its first openly gay member. Deborah Glick, elected from an assembly district that included Greenwich Village and Chelsea, became New York State's first openly lesbian legislator.

In New York, as in other glbtq communities, the 1990s marked the triumph of the "gay marketing moment" and consumerism. The glbtq market emerged as a major consumer market. Large corporations, such as AT&T, Miller's Beer, Continental Airlines, and Calvin Klein, developed marketing campaigns that explicitly targeted the gay and lesbian communities. A growing number of mainstream companies advertised in gay magazines, sponsored television shows with gay and lesbian characters, and customized their products and services for the needs of lesbians and gay men.

While the Village (around Christopher Street) still had a cluster of gay bars, by 1990 Chelsea, from West 17th to 23rd Street between 6th and 9th Avenues, had become the new gay neighborhood. The gay market boom had resulted in the proliferation of fancy restaurants and bars, expensive gyms, and pricey boutiques.

During the 1990s, New York's sexual scene and nightlife suffered from the clean-up drives of Mayor Giuliani. Many large dance clubs closed in the wake of the City's prosecution of drug violations. Sex clubs and the backrooms of bars in which sex took place were closed. Despite these developments, the lounge and bar scenes continued to thrive. Every week gay publications like HX and Next published listings of hundreds of parties, dances, performances, and events for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people.

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