Raving Madness: How Drug Use in Gay Clubs Contributed to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic
The panel embodied above is the AIDS Quilt panel representing beloved friend and artist, Andrew Lowry. I decided to choose this panel because I felt it shared a lot of untold stories about “who” Andrew was. I sat and had an interview with his best friend, Roddy Williams, who also happens to be the Director of Operations for the AIDS Quilt. Just to share a little backstory about Andrew: he grew up living in a foster family with more than four siblings who all were also adopted. Due to Andrew being gay, he faced resentment from those around him and received no support from his foster family. This caused a huge crack in their relationship, so Andrew left his home an went to Orlando, Florida to the happiest place in the world – Disney World. Did I forget to mention he was only 15? Fast forward a few years; Andrew is now living in Atlanta as an artist. He has few friends and every weekend they would go out clubbing, Andrew’s favorite thing behind sculpting. Fast forward a while later, Andrew transmits AIDS and is very open about it. He starts to join support groups and movements in order to fight against the disease and support the gay community. His real Atkins hip with his foster family was so stained, he didn’t want them to know he was dead until he was already buried. During that unfortunate time, Andrew managed to reach out to others beyond the gay community to spread awareness about the virus. Roddy never really told me how Andrew actually transmitted the disease, but it did spark a thought in my mind about other ways it could be transmitted.
During the AIDS epidemic, it was initially believed that the disease was mostly transmitted through sexual intercourse with the same sex. This put the gay community under a lot of pressure and risk from society seeing as they were affected the most. But the gay dance party subculture during this time revealed that this raving, mass culture would openly share psychoactive drugs when they were out partying. Their indiscriminate judgement on sharing drugs would reveal to society the dangers of clubbing at night.
Understanding of HIV/AIDS
What is HIV/AIDS? According to Avert, it is a “virus that attack CD4 cells which our body uses to fight off infections”. Basically, the virus will slowly start to tear away at your immune system and if left untreated, can cause difficulties in fighting off infections and other illnesses. For a virus that slowly deteriorates at your immune system, usually a period of 10 – 15 years, means it is hard to tell is sick and the ease of transmission determines why this is an epidemic.
What is Gay Dance Subculture?
Over time, music will simply change with the lifestyle it is accompanied to. That can be said for the disco/ rave music from the 70s – today. Throughout the 70s, there were private after parties with network of dancers from gay communities. Many of these parties were full of people, making them great spots for drug dealers. But before we go down that road, we have to look at gay contribution to music. After the loft parties, many of the gay musicians and dancers would take the lie talents to gay bars and bathhouses to perform. After this short period however, an anti-dance rose known as “disco sucks”. This phrase was sort of a shot directed towards the gay community, seeing as they were dominating disco culture during this time. However years after this, disco/rave music would dominate many gay businesses. By the late 80s, many gay establishments would shift the disco music into a more techno/electronic sound. Even through today, many gay dance parties/raves will play some form of techno/electronic sound but more commonly “EDM”. These parties are also major hubs for drugs and orgies among the gay community, which could have been very dangerous during the 80s – 90s era. Most of the members that attend these parties are surprisingly minorities, mostly from the black and Latino community. This is because of a response to the exclusion of gay black men in majorette routines at HBCUs . They have started to form groups and attend these raves to express their love for dance and music and to also rise against exclusion from society. This side of the dance scene can be seen as positive aspect for the gay community and their response to society. But what about their drug scene? During these parties, people would share drugs in order to interact and socialize with others but the gay dance scene also gave birth to and were large centers for hardcore drugs such as PCP, ecstasy, but more commonly meth. Many in the gay community used this subculture as a way to form chemsex groups.
What is Chemsex?
Chemsex originally came in to creation around the 1960s era around the time of a sexual revolution of gay men started. These Chemsex groups are usually formed on apps aimed at meeting people in the gay community. They would usually meet up at a bathhouse, hotel/motel, or stranger’s apartment. The use of meth, mephedrone(bath salts), and GHB/GBL are main sources of drugs used in these groups because the purpose of the Chemsex scene is to have orgies for days on end. These drugs allow the participants to continue to have sex for days without food or water. There are more harms than benefits for these Chemsex groups such as: risk of addiction, risk of death, damage to body, risk of STD, etc. As the use of these drugs become more frequent, it increases the chances of sharing needles and decreases the chances of safe sex. These allows the participants to become more vulnerable to the risk of getting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The ease of obtaining these drugs are usually caused by code words used online such as “PnP” meaning “party and play” and “parTy” meaning the use of meth. There may be more ways these drugs are obtained but this is by far the easiest method.
Dancing With the Devil: Gay Men & Meth Series
While watching these videos, viewer discretion is advised:
Above is attached a four-part series of short videos that entail the testimonies of gay men that were victims to Chemsex and their experiences with the meth, sex, life, etc. I added these videos to give insight on what it was like for those that fell victim to Chemsex groups.
Government Response to Chemsex and Gay Dance Subculture
The government has never really been in the favor of the gay community or their rights. The gay community also faced a lot of criticism and discrimination from society about their sexual orientation/preference. The laws that were put in place to oppress the gay community is partial reason for them do my things such as gay dance parties and Chemsex groups. During the late 60s, a few states would change their sodomy laws to apply to gay people only. The first do so was Kansas in 1969. As recent as 2013, gay people were given the right to legal marriage. Why did it take over 45 years to give gay people the same right to marriage as everyone else? This is why many gay men turned towards club life and hardcore drugs. They frequently had to do their activities out of the limelight, forcing them to get into illegal activities and involving theirselves more into the crime life. But recently, it seems the gay community is slowly but surely getting the same rights as everyone. Also, the government is starting to focus on disbanding the Chemsex culture by targeting drug networks, networking apps, focusing on rehabilitation centers, and more strict penalties/sentences for finding drugs such as meth. Hopefully they won’t start trying to prohibit or limit the abilities and/or activities within the gay community because of a subculture issue.
This project really helped open my eyes to the discrimination and scrutiny faced by the gay community for over 50 years. Their inability to express their selves in society and the close minded theories and ideas society and culture have forced people to believe wrongfully of people who are gay. The constant oppression lead to an introverted culture away from society that worsened the epidemic that mainly affected them. Throughout society, many have faced some form of discrimination due to the ideas bounded to people by livelihood and lifestyle, causing is to split apart as a society. The government was the base cause for the widespread of this epidemic because of their lack of equality and oppression of certain groups, causing splits in ideas among the society. This oppression has forced them to do many things away from the hatred of society, leading to a worsening of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. If the government would’ve listened to the outcry from not only the gay community but from society, there wouldn’t be such a divide and maybe a countless number of lives would have been saved. From the 80s – 90s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic went without proper attention, leading to the gay community seeming torn away from society. This lead to their issue going overlooked, leading to many countless deaths.
- Wong, Curtis. This Dance Subculture Is Thriving Among Black Gay Men In The South. http://www.google.com/amp/s/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_5aa1c4ffe4b01b9b0a39a21e/amp. Huff Post. March 9, 2018.
- Glazer, Joshua. Dance Pride: The Gay Origins of Dance Music. http://thump.vice.com/en_us/article/aeqxwz/dance-pride-the-gay-origins-of-dance-music Vice News. June 6, 2014.
- Cain, Matt. The rise of gay ‘chemsex’ parties involving libido-enhancing drugs. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-rise-of-gay-chemsex-parties-involving-libido-enhancing-drugs-a6694951.html?amp. Independent News. October 17, 2015.
- Daly, Max. How Gay Clubs Change The Way We Take Drugs. http://www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/avy885/gay-clubbers-early-drug-adopters-720. Vice News. November 30, 2015.