How could two viruses that spread in widely different ways cause the same effects in a community? The AIDS epidemic created extreme tragedy and unrest particularly in the LGBTQ+ community during the 1980s. Covid-19 has affected people all over the world and has disrupted lives to varying degrees. These two deadly viruses have more in common beyond the evident devastation they caused. The social, sexual, and romantic lives of queer people have been stunted and shaped by COVID and AIDS in their respective times.
In the article “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic”, authors Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen talk about the importance of physical touch and affection, even in the face of potential illness. Gay men were the most affected by AIDS/HIV, which led to them being further ostracized not only in society but also from each other. Gay men specifically were encouraged to distance themselves from each other out of fear of getting the virus. Dispersing a community hurts its members by not allowing them to explore their sexuality and share common experiences. This, unfortunately, occurred again in 2020.
During the current pandemic, many LGBTQ+ people have “come out” or have realized their identity, partially due to ample time without the influences of society. Many creators on the social media platform “TikTok” have shared their experiences coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community during quarantine. While the idea of a complete shutdown or quarantine was not as prevalent with the HIV/AIDS crisis, the same inability to be close to anyone or express your sexuality occurred. The feeling of loneliness, feeling lost, and missing a sense of community that the queer people are known to create permeates both ages. These experiences are isolating and will likely affect the way queer people interact in the future.
Connecting the effects of these viruses matters because they are both cultural and societal moments that shaped the way queer people could discover themselves, as well as the way that society sees them. However, because the community has an online presence in the 21st century, there is still the ability to connect on an emotional level, which was not possible for queer people during the AIDS crisis. Acknowledging the loss of both lives and experiences has been common in both the AIDS crisis, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be a part of our community’s history, which is why it is helpful to compare both situations in the context of each other.