In Honor OfWorld AIDS Day2020

Invisible Histories presents a brief snapshot of early HIV/AIDS history and organizing in Alabama.

Early Years

This section represents the very earliest organizing and resources around the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s in Alabama. Within this section, you will find information on Mobile AIDS Support Services, the first organization to provide such services in the state, and Lambda, Inc, the first LGBTQ center in Alabama (1977) that would lay the foundation for later organizations like Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama.
Photo of the Lambda center house in 1982 on 23rd St South in Birmingham, AL.

Lambda Inc.

In the late 1970s, Bootsie Abelson, Kay Crutcher, Ron Joullian, and Rick Adams met at Bootsie’s Bohemian Store & Deli on Highland Avenue in Birmingham, AL. They talked about the issues they faced as gays and lesbians and how they might go about providing resources and community for the gay and lesbian people in the Birmingham area. From this, Lambda, Inc began on June 17, 1977 as a community organization aiming to promote a sense of community, promote the general welfare of the gay and lesbian community, and create a dialogue with the heterosexual community about gay stereotypes.

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Mobile AIDS Support Services

Mobile, Alabama

In 1983/84 Martha Wood was a retired school teacher, turned social worker. She noticed a large group of young men coming back to Mobile who were dying, rejected by family, couldn’t work, and with nowhere to live. Martha, along with a group of other social workers realized they would need to get organized around a new disease effecting gay men called GRIDS. GRIDS was an abbreviation for gay-related immunodeficiency. This group applied to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, connected with the local community, and put in an application for funding to get services to these young men.

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The Reports

The AIDS Task Force of Alabama convened to begin planning a strategy that would help pull together resources for people living with HIV, make research on the latest status of the disease available to the public, and make certain that the community had the most up-to-date information about what was going on in Alabama and around the country. This report from 1990 is a beautiful example of how the LGBTQ community focused on meeting our own needs and making sure that we were being safe and staying healthy.

AIDS Taskforce Alabama

This report from 1990 was produced by the AIDS Task Force of Alabama. This report gave people a chance to talk about issues related to HIV infection, better safe sex practices for Queer and Trans people, and the latest research around HIV/AIDS.

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AIDS Unit Of Instruction 7-12 Education

Jefferson County Board Of Education

In August 1987 the Alabama State Board of Education directed the State Superintendent of Education to develop an AIDS education program for students in grades seven through twelve in Alabama schools. This AIDS unit of instruction was designated to be taught during the second semester of the 1987-88 school year. The Board also directed that AIDS instruction be incorporated into the comprehensive health curriculum starting with the 1988-89 school year.

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Community Organizing

The mid-1980s saw a significant growth in community organizing and resources around HIV/AIDS particularly in the Birmingham metropolitan area. Pride marches, like the first one held on June 24th, 1989 were often centered around issues related to AIDS and lack of governmental support at both the federal and state levels. During this time, organizations that continue to do work throughout the city/state began like Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama.

Pride Parade

“Out in the South” video documentary from 1989 of the first Pride March in Alabama. This march took place on June 24th, 1989 in Birmingham Alabama. 50 people were anticipated, but over 200 showed up.
This film was uploaded with the permission of the director, Bob Huff.

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Birmingham AIDS Outreach

Birmingham AIDS Outreach grew out of Lambda, INC, the first LGBTQ center in Alabama. The first planning meetings for BAO were held in the Lambda center in the early 1980s. In May 1985, BAO became an incorporated organization focusing on AIDS services and supports. During the early years, BAO worked closely with the Jefferson County Health Department who sponsored the AIDS hotline for $35 a month ran through BAO. BAO also partnered heavily with the AIDS Task Force of Alabama.

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AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alabama was founded in 1990 and works to advocate for people living with HIV across the state of Alabama. AIDS Alabama provides housing and supportive services to low-income persons with HIV/AIDS as well as education, outreach, and testing.
The daily work of AIDS Alabama includes political advocacy in Montgomery & DC, housing and health support for people with HIV, programming, testing, and many other services for people across the state of Alabama.

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Under the leadership of Lambda and other community organizers, LGBTQ people from Alabama focused on activism that would not only draw attention to the AIDS crisis in the state, but also advocate for changes that needed to be made at all levels of healthcare, political planning, and local community support. In 1987, a large group of LGBTQ people marched in the 1987 March on Washington, made panels to include in the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, planned political protests surrounding the City of Birmingham’s response to AIDS, and worked with Act-Up New York to train activists on how to respond to the AIDS epidemic.

March on Washington

In 1987 a large group of Gay men and Lesbians rode in a caravan driven by Sandy Stong to participate in the 1987 March on Washington. This group not only took activists with them, but also panels to be included in the Names Project Aids Memorial Quilt that was to be displayed on the National Mall. According to local community members, panels for the Quilt were being sewn up until the very last minute with individual people volunteering to make panels for lost loved ones.

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