AIDS activism research

HIV/AIDS activism in England, c. 1982-1997

Innovative and timely research into political responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

My PhD thesis examines the history of the groups and individuals who responded politically to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in England. It spans the yeas of the first confirmed AIDS-related death in the UK, that of Terry Higgins in 1982, until 1997. This was the year after the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) transformed the disease from a terminal one to a manageable chronic illness, and in which the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour ended eighteen years of Conservative rule in Britain.

My research points out that the radical AIDS activists so commonly associated with the responses to the epidemic in America and continental Europe were an active and meaningful presence in England. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which has been frequently overlooked and downplayed as a political entity in England, receives critical historical attention. A substantive chapter contextualises the group and analyses a series of their local, national and international campaigns.

However, I also argue that AIDS activism should not only be identified in ‘radical’ direct action groups. I identify a series of quieter, more subtle forms of HIV/AIDS activism, from religious groups seeking changes in institutional policies to universities attempting to draft health and safety guidelines on the virus. In sum, I argue that historians need to adopt a wider working view of ‘activism’ in order to more comprehensively understand the ways in which groups and individuals responded to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.