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Homophobia and AIDS

Much of the apathy of which Beverlie Conant Sloane spoke could be attributed to harmful stereotypes about homosexuality and AIDS. Before the epidemic, gay students and the GSA had already faced discrimination from many parts of campus, notably spearheaded by the Dartmouth Review. A fringe conservative publication with no affiliation to the College (despite its name), the Review had previously published an editorial outing the officers of the GSA in 1981. Only a few years later, the paper sent an undercover reporter with a wire to covertly record a GSA meeting and published an article with the information heard.

"It strikes me as entirely possible that [in AIDS,] the immunity system simply throws in the towel."

With the advent of AIDS, however, the Review found new fodder to bully the GSA about. Operating on the stereotype that gay men were sexually promiscuous, much of the Review’s rhetoric implicated AIDS as the ‘natural consequence’ of their actions. Jeffrey Hart wrote in his article “The Alternative Deathstyle” that gay men were exposed to “more infection…than the body’s normal immunity system can tolerate. It strikes me as entirely possible that the immunity system simply throws in the towel.”

However, homophobic attitudes about AIDS were not limited to the Review. In August of 1985, the sorority Alpha Chi Omega threw a party with the theme of “Live AID: A Tribute to Rock Hudson.” The title of the event referenced the actor Rock Hudson’s recent passing from AIDS – one of the first high profile deaths due to the disease. The GSA condemned the party’s theme and the events that transpired in an editorial to the leftist magazine Stet:

“The events of this past weekend have served as yet another reminder of how far our organization has to go in educating the population at large on issues of importance to us. It has never surprised us that the rise of AIDS has led not only to joking and ridicule on behalf of the homophobic/heterosexist community, but also the justification of homosexual oppression...We were surprised, however, that this would be the theme for a sorority party."

The Dartmouth Gay Students' Association

Several GSA members attended the party out of protest. Upon their arrival, partygoers pointed fingers and whispered. After about 45 minutes of dancing, the crowd exploded into violence, throwing beer at the GSA members. Individuals shouted, “Fags go home!” “It’s the Live AIDS in person!” and mimed kicking and beating the GSA members. The editorial describes that the GSA members left without retaliating but were disappointed to not hear a verbal apology from the sisters of Alpha Chi Omega. Ultimately, the sorority was punished with social suspension for a term, as well as made to co-host a lecture about AIDS with the GSA. 

Even if some students were not outright homophobic, most of the campus held false beliefs about the association between AIDS and homosexuality. In an article in The Dartmouth from November 1985, students reported that they would likely shun a fraternity brother or dorm-mate if they were to test positive for the disease. One student described the association by saying, “Because of the lifestyle AIDS represents, the initial reaction would be rejection…There would be pressure to move out, whether he was gay or not. A lot of people can’t separate the two.”

From the Archives

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The Alternative Deathstyle

This article, written by faculty advisor to the Review Jeffrey Hart, blamed the spread of AIDS in the homosexual population on their alleged promiscuity.

Live AID: A Tribute to Rock Hudson Party Poster

Alpha Chi Omega sorority held an AIDS-themed party during the 1985 summer term. The tagline reads: "Dartmouth IV required."

Letter to the Editor from the GSA

This letter was written by the Gay Student's Association (GSA) to the editors of Stet, a leftist magazine. The GSA condemned the events that occured at AXO during the Live Aid party and asked for greater campus awareness of gay existence and issues.

College Health Services provides testing for AIDS

This article from The Dartmouth interviewed students about their hypothetical reactions should a classmate, fraternity brother, or dorm-mate test positive for AIDS. 

Oral history interview with Charles R. Wilson II

Charles Wilson '87 discussed the homophobic "atrocities at Dartmouth" of the mid-1980s in this oral history.

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