Confronting the “Straight State”

George Severs

This week at the Gender and Sexuality History Workshop we were delighted to hear from Stephen Colbrook, an MPhil student in American History at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Stephen treated us to a taste of his dissertation, talking us through the interesting case of California’s state response to its HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.

That California was used as a case study is in some ways unsurprising. San Francisco was something of an epicentre of the epidemic on the West Coast during this period. LGBTQ+ had long been coming to California, and San Francisco in particular, seeking refuge within the diverse queer communities which had flourished there since the postwar period. When the epidemic began in earnest in Britain, LGBTQ+ community leaders involved in coordinating HIV/AIDS groups often travelled to California in order to learn how to most effectively organise in the face of such a terrifying and unknown virus.

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