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United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present  
 
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Clause 28 probably contributed to the strong sense of solidarity apparent among queer women towards the end of the 1980s. Perhaps more significantly, opposition to the Clause also promoted awareness of the causes that linked gay men and lesbians, who began to work together more systematically to fight oppression.

HIV/AIDS

The first British case of Kaposi's Sarcoma was diagnosed in December 1981. By the end of 1983, there were 29 documented cases of AIDS in the UK. By April 1989, over a thousand individuals had died from complications of the disease. Numbers of individuals affected continued to grow; by early 1993, over 8,000 cases of AIDS had been documented. Disturbing as these statistics are, the incidence of AIDS during the 1980s and the early 1990s was considerably lower in the UK than in Spain, France, and many other western European countries, to say nothing of the United States.

Sponsor Message.

Statistics tell only part of the story of AIDS. The illness and death caused by HIV and AIDS in the British gay male community during the mid-1980s created conditions resembling a wartime emergency. Intensifying the oppression of gay men during the era were smear campaigns directed against them by right-wing politicians and religious leaders, who emphasized the link between homosexuality and devastating disease. There were increasing instances of discrimination against gay men, who, for example, were refused service by taxi firms and pubs.

Faced with government inaction, members of the gay community developed volunteer organizations to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis. Named after the first British man known to have died of AIDS, the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), founded in November 1982, devoted its initial efforts to fund-raising for research but later developed a comprehensive range of medical and support services. Campaigning in gay discos and leather clubs in London, the Trust had developed a safe-sex education program by 1983, as did such other groups as Gay Medical Association. Outside of London, locally based self-help groups of gay men emerged in many cities by 1984.

In January 1985, Jill Knight, Chair of the House of Commons Health Committee, demanded that AIDS be made a notifiable disease and that legal steps be taken to confine AIDS patients. Reacting to a public relations campaign launched by the newspaper Capital Gay, Health Minister Kenneth Clarke on February 20 abandoned the proposal to make AIDS a notifiable disease, but he established powers to detain patients in hospitals. In September, THT successfully appealed to the High Court to rescind the powers that had been used to confine a man with AIDS against his will in a Manchester hospital. Appointed Health Minister in 1985, Barney Harvey, who had coordinated the raid against Gay's the Word, supported increased police powers against homosexual activities in a supposed effort to protect young people against disease.

Established in 1987, the Health Education Authority encouraged "mainstreaming" of AIDS information and help services, effectively distancing them from the gay organizations that had pioneered these activities. As HIV/AIDS service providers became increasingly dependent on government funding in the late 1980s and the 1990s, they tended to downplay services directed specifically at homosexual men. Thus, for example, many service centers stopped displaying and distributing explicit safe-sex materials geared to gay and bisexual men.

Feeling that many gay organizations had become less effective in dealing with HIV/AIDS through collaboration with government mainstreaming programs, a group of queer AIDS activists established a British version of ACT-UP in January 1989, and a number of new organizations emerged to encourage prevention. For instance, the MESMAC Project (Men Who Have Sex With Men Action in the Community) sought to establish a variety of outreach programs, including some directed to men who avoided labeling themselves as gay, which is particularly the case in minority communities.

The UK now has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in western Europe. There has been a forty-five percent increase in infection rates among gay and bisexual men since 2000. In 2004 and 2005, men who have sex with men accounted for 79 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS acquired in the UK.

Preliminary results of research conducted by clinics in London, Brighton, and Manchester attribute this development to an increase in unprotected anal intercourse among men. To combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, gay activists are calling for safe-sex campaigns and other support services explicitly targeted to gay men, in imitation of those that were so successful in the early years of the plague.

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