In Honor of World AIDS Day
The Invisible Histories Project presents a brief snapshot of early HIV/AIDS history and organizing in Alabama
- Early Years
- Mobile AIDS Support Services
- The Reports
- AIDS Task Force Alabama
- AIDS Unit of Instruction 7-12
- Community Organizing
- Pride Parade
- Birmingham AIDS Outreach
- AIDS Alabama
- 1987 March on Washington
- Support Expands
- 1917 Clinic
- Montgomery AIDS Outreach
- Five Horizons
- AIDS Service Center
- AIDS Action Coalition
- Stars Over Alabama
- Rushton Park Memorial Video
- Virtual Memorial
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Support for local individuals with HIV begins to expand across Alabama in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Community organizations and clinics helping to support people with HIV take shape in Montgomery, Anniston, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, and Jasper. This commitment to local support and activism can be seen today in the work that is being done across the state to make sure that people living with HIV continue to receive the support they need.
For over 25 years, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) 1917 Clinic has provided comprehensive core medical and social services to adult HIV infected patients. Medical specialty, dental and mental health services are also available onsite. The 1917 Clinic was opened as a result of the hard work of UAB infectious disease expert, Dr. Michael S. Saag. Saag was a pioneer in clinical trials for antiretroviral drugs now commonly used in HIV treatment and in understanding the importance of viral-load testing in treatment plan. Saag understood the need for a comprehensive and community centered treatment and research center which gave way to the start of the 1917 clinic on January 28, 1988. It received its name from the building where it was located at 1917 5th Ave South.
Montgomery Advocacy & Outreach (originally named Montgomery AIDS Outreach) educates the public about HIV/AIDS and related illnesses and how to prevent transmission of infection. MAO was founded by local healthcare workers and LGBTQ people desperate to organize when local medical providers, funeral homes, and other social services were actively denying HIV positive people access.
Five Horizons Health Services (FHHS) is a nonprofit community-based organization that provides services to West Alabama and East Mississippi. Founded in 1988 as West Alabama AIDS Outreach (WAAO), the agency’s original mission was to provide HIV-related outreach and prevention services to West Alabama.
The AIDS Services Center (ASC) first opened its doors as an outpatient medical clinic for persons infected with HIV/AIDS in December 1990. At that time, Dr. Barbara Hanna, the counselor, nurses, the director, and a host of others were all volunteering their valuable expertise to assist those in need of medical care. The clinic was originally located in Oxford, AL but relocated within a few months to larger quarters in nearby Hobson City.
As the Health Educator, Mary Elizabeth was the awarded Educator of the Year by AIDS Task Force of Alabama in 1998. During that time, she was also on the Board of Directors of Thrive Alabama, then known as the AIDS Action Coalition. She became the executive director in January 1999. She has taken the organization from a $500,000 yearly budget to a $10 million budget, expanding services to include primary healthcare, HIV and STI testing and care, housing, substance abuse and mental health, and telemedicine.
Stars Over Alabama, Inc. was a volunteer, non-profit organization, devoted to help in funding of Jasper House AIDS Hospice in the early 2000s. Please enjoy this soon-to-be archived angelfire website from 2003. We hope you like glitter text!
AIDS memorials have been a critical part of community activism, remembrance and grieving since the crisis began in the early 1980s. This section provides a video of a Lambda, Inc protest to highlight the negligence of federal and state governments; links to Alabama and Mississippi specific sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt online; and a virtual memorial that you can participate in if you would like to leave a memory of someone lost.
This video clip was taken in Rushton Park in 1988 during an HIV/AIDS demonstration led by members of Lambda, Inc. A reading of the names of people who passed away from HIV/AIDS were done along with chalk outline of bodies to represent those who had passed. This symbolic act represented the act of violence and murder the organizers felt were committed by the federal government in mismanaging the AIDS crisis.
This exhibit is a living collection of materials related to HIV/AIDS organizing and services in the state of Alabama and is in no way a complete representation of the full history.
The work of the Invisible Histories Project is made possible by our amazing partners, our financial supporters, and individuals like you. If you would like to contribute archival materials to IHP, you can contact us here or send us an email
Donate Items to the Invisible History Archive
*Items of interest are those directly relating to LGBTQ history in the Southeastern United States. Click Here for a list of item we accept.
Special thanks go out to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their continued support for the preservation of LGBTQ Deep South history and this project and AIDS Alabama for being the home of the IHP office in Birmingham.
Co-curators of this exhibit are Shane Hekker, Joshua Burford, and Maigen Sullivan.