From Affective Violence to Queer Love: The Emergence of HIV/AIDS Care Systems in Fresno, California: What It Teaches Social Work Students

  • Clarke, K. (Puhuja)
  • Christopher (Chris) Sullivan (Puhuja)

Aktiviteetti: Puhe- tai esitystyypitSuullinen esitys


Historical studies have become increasingly significant in social work to better understand the prevailing epistemologies that guide current policies and practices (Lorenz, 2012). Studies of how social work has contributed to contemporary systems of oppression are key to structural social work pedagogy (e.g. Wright & Akkin, 2021). This study examines how care systems emerged in the urban-rural locale of Fresno in the late 1980s and early 1990s to cope with the emotional trauma that local gay men faced from societal stigma, family estrangement and affective violence during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Fresno is a city in the center of California and has a strongly socially conservative local culture. Following Diedrich (2007), this paper explores how lesbians in Fresno offered ‘queer love’ to their gay brothers as health advocates by creating an agency to support people living with HIV at the advent of the AIDS epidemic (Diedrich, 2007). It traces how the Fresno lesbian and gay community shifted from providing support for queer identities through counseling and support groups to advocating for care and providing end-of-life care for gay men living with AIDS. Analyzing 20 semi-structured qualitative interviews, this study uses a narrative approach to analyze the emergence of HIV services in Fresno. The study finds that local queer networks creatively responded to the crisis, providing support to people living with AIDS despite the prevailing culture of affective violence. The actions taken by queer activists had lasting effects on the development of queer affirmative services and attitudes in the Fresno community.

After World War II, San Francisco and New York emerged as centers of gay culture in the US as returning servicemen and women settled in these accepting metropoles rather than returning to provincial hometowns (Berube, 2010). Queer culture flourished in large American cities through a burgeoning nightlife, an emerging literary and arts scene, and multifarious political mobilizations to challenge homophobic laws and policies (Bergman, Castle & Gross, 2004). Along with street-based social movements of the 1960s, gay liberation was centered in the affirmation of the self (Malchow, 2011). While gay liberation is often embedded in narratives of gay migration to urban enclaves, queer sexualities have also thrived in less urbanized areas of the US. Outside of urban centers, discretion, the interwovenness of local and personal identities, and a complex navigation of local social institutions and cultures are often more significant to queer identities rooted in place (Kazyak, 2011).

After GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) was first identified in a medical journal in 1981 (CDC, 1981), American gay men experienced a tidal wave of stigma, discrimination, and homophobia that rolled back some of the progress made towards gay liberation. As the AIDS epidemic intensified in the 1980s, American gay men were subject to affective violence by being shamed for their sexuality and stigmatized as vectors of disease transmission (Vincent, Peterson & Parrott, 2016). The lack of treatment options and limited understanding of the virus meant that people who were infected generally faced a rapid advance to death. Many gay men living with HIV struggled with family rejection and the lack of palliative care and treatment. Research has shown that sexual minorities experience a higher prevalence of bullying, self-harming behaviors, addiction, family rejection, harassment, and hate crimes that consequently place them at higher risk of poor mental and physical health outcomes (Plöderl & Tremblay, 2015). While cities like San Francisco and New York quickly organized community services like the Shanti Project and Gay Men’s Health Crisis, less urbanized areas had fewer resources and often faced more deeply entrenched homophobia in local institutions and cultures. The Fresno case study offers insight into how local activists created care systems which has significance to social work pedagogies of care and social change.
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