Now that Pride month is over, let’s talk about the relevance of EATG, especially at its launch, in the broader context of gay liberation.
In many countries, June is the month of LGBTQI+ Pride – or what used to be just Gay Pride. As pointed out by EATG member Cianán Russell in a blog post during Pride in 2021, “Pride is protest and a celebration of diversity.” But why is Pride usually celebrated in June? This goes back to late June of 1969 in the US, when, following increasing vigilante attacks against gay men and trans people in New York, the gay activist group Stonewall started one night to fight back against police violence, the so-called ‘Stonewall Riots’. The protest lasted six-days and established ‘gay liberation’ as a political and social force to be reckoned with. From that time, gay pride marches have been held each June in the US and were soon adopted elsewhere. For the UK, June 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Pride march in 1972, coming only 5 years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.
The essence of Pride is fighting for – and protecting – rights to equality regardless of gender expression, gender identity or sexual orientation. It created a new and much more assertive approach and laid the groundwork for more advocacy in the coming years. For EATG member Julian Hows, writing in a 2021 blog about the legacy of Pride in the UK, “it meant that when attacks came along upon our liberties, such as the infamous ‘Clause 28’, we knew how to organise… and to do so in a way which included ‘chutzpah’ and humour.” And Pride is diversifying, with the creation of Trans Pride in 2013.
When EATG was launched in 1992, HIV was still intimately linked in the minds of the public with homosexuality. Existing stigma and discrimination against different sexualities – still strong even 23 years after the Stonewall Riots – was made so much worse by association with an infectious disease that seemed to affect only gay men and, to a lesser extent, those with an ‘inappropriate’ lifestyle, such as injecting drug users, or sex workers. There was therefore strong overlap between advocacy for the rights of disenfranchised groups, including for gay rights, and advocacy for increasing access to better HIV treatments, which at the time in 1992 and as noted in the first blog in this series, were largely inaccessible due to the intransigence of political and pharmaceutical actors. According to the EATG’s 25th Anniversary publication, “historically, the HIV movement in Europe and the Global North has been led and dominated by gay men. Indeed, being gay has been an essential part of this.” EATG in 1992 reflected this, giving the organisation a powerful institutional memory of advocacy and activism around sexuality and treatment access, a legacy which echoes to this day.
In Western and Central Europe, gay and other MSM are still the leading group affected by HIV, according to the ECDC. There is also evidence of increasing repression of LGBTI people in countries such as Poland and Hungary. The fight for LGBTI rights is clearly not over. Moves against the ‘gay lifestyle’ in its broadest definition require an organised, robust, and strategic response. There are also well-defined and prominent key populations at risk of HIV or affected (e.g., sex workers, drug users, and trans people) and a continuing need to protect the rights of women. EATG is involved in all these spaces, and with its legacy of activism (initially led by gay men) is in a strong position to continue the fight for the rights and treatment justice for all affected populations.
How can it do this? From its launch, EATG’s mission has been to provide a mechanism for patient and community activists to be heard at the highest levels of decision-making to improve and maintain access to HIV treatment. It also aims to maximise HIV prevention for groups most at risk and energise local community organisations to be more effective. EATG’s role and expertise in empowering civil society is borne of its long history of advocacy and network building across the European region. It can play a vital role in maintaining the fight for better access to treatment and prevention, and against stigma and discrimination, and our history has taught us that the battle for rights requires constant vigilance. Nothing should be taken as settled, as we’ve seen recently in the US Supreme Court’s decision to reverse women’s constitutional rights to abortion, considered ‘settled’ for over 50 years. What this says about the regression in women’s rights in the US and potentially elsewhere sounds alarm bells across the world.
EATG, with its legacy of advocacy, activism, and addressing issues around sexuality that were so dominant at its launch in 1992, bridged the gap between health, sexuality, and treatment. It continues to do so, and in its current constitution, “promotes unprejudiced presentation of HIV/AIDS-, co-infection- and co-morbidity related issues in public and aims to improve the situation of those concerned and their acceptance in society.”
As we remember and celebrate Pride, let’s not forget the struggles of the past to protect the rights of people to express their sexuality and gender in whatever ways that they wish. There have been successes and defeats along the way – and lessons to learn – but EATG continues to play a vital role in promoting treatment access, HIV prevention, and equality for all groups affected by HIV. We have a history!
During the 30 years EATG, we’ll be celebrating some of EATG’s achievements, reminding ourselves of what we could have done better, and looking forward to our contribution towards an AIDS-free world by 2030. Each month, one or more blogs will be published from activists and EATG members, talking of the early days of EATG, highlighting some of the challenges and opportunities, and sharing accounts and anecdotes. We hope these provide some insights into the lived experiences of people involved closely in HIV activism and EATG’s work across Europe over the last 30 years.
We hope you enjoy reading all the blogs, and if you have comments or stories of your own to share, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or Apostolos Kalogiannis at any time during the campaign.
Are you living with HIV/AIDS? Are you part of a community affected by HIV/AIDS and co-infections? Do you work or volunteer in the field? Are you motivated by our cause and interested to support our work?
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