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LGBTQ+ Living History: Coming Together in the 1980s

September 13, 2019
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In a six-part series, we highlight a few of the moments, movements, and people that made their mark on Cal’s LGBTQ+ history. We move through the decades, beginning in an era of secrecy and continuing through today.

Coming together in the 1980s

Just as the gay community was enjoying less discrimination and harassment, more peer support, better health services, and greater visibility, people started getting sick. Very sick. The first known AIDS patient was identified in the United States in 1981. By 1985, 12,000 Americans had died.

The HIV virus that causes AIDS hit San Francisco especially hard, but the impact was also felt strongly at Cal. The Pacific Center used all its resources to provide support for AIDS victims, an initiative that would continue through the decade. In 1987, Berkeley became the first city to mail AIDS information packets to every household in the city.

“Dictionary tell him shelter keep you safe from danger. He be worry about old people when they think that love be dangerous.”
His Own Where, June Jordan

French philosopher, historian, and literary critic Michel Foucault, considered one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post-World War II period, was one of the many that died from AIDS in the early- to mid-1980s. He landed in Berkeley in the late 1970s to take a visiting professorship and reportedly fell hard for the Bay Area.

In 1980, he gave a lecture at Wheeler Auditorium that was so popular, several hundred people gathered outside the already-packed hall. He visited Berkeley for several months each year until he died in 1984. He left behind a legacy of work that influenced LGBT identity.

Poet and social activist June Jordan taught at Cal from 1986 until her death in 2002. Her first novel, His Own Where, received a National Book Award nomination. Much of her work explores her bisexuality and freedom of expression.

by Heather R. Johnson