Given the primacy of Florida, and in particular Orlando, as an urban center with an above average rate of AIDS and HIV, this study examines how the outbreak of a deadly disease can affect a community. Complicating the response to this scourge, those who were most at-risk were marginalized groups such as those in the LGBTQ community, drug users, and often people of color. As a result, those who occupied positions of political power felt little incentive to curb the epidemic and mocked it by deeming it "the gay disease." As a result of neglect and the lack of investment in scientific and medical research to better understand the epidemiological contours of this deadly dis-ease, its growth and spread were exacerbated. Given the significant social stigma associated with AIDS, an analysis of the epidemic must be examined both an epidemiological as well as a social phenomenon. In Orlando and elsewhere, the refusal of the government and institutions to adequately address the AIDS epidemic, some people in the community formed grassroots organizations to help find relief for their community, family and friends. Whereas in previous generations, separation from the mainstream society was an explicit objective of many gay activists, in this era the gay community worked toward forming an inclusive coalition out of necessity to combat AIDS. Eventually, this effort forced the broader population and political establishment to begin taking decisive action. Eventually, declining rates of infection suggest that the resources invested in this effort, including scientific research and public information campaigns, worked. The public became more knowledgeable about AIDS and HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, even became manageable to the point that it no longer the equivalent to a death sentence; however, the AIDS epidemic left a legacy on communities across the country and globe. This analysis of the experience of Orlando, Florida, illustrates the effect of its aftermath; grief and mourning remains an ever-present reminder of this dark chapter in this community's history. Further, the grassroots organizations, strategies, and resources developed out of necessity during the 1980s remained and became important pillars of the community. The response to the PULSE Nightclub mass shooting that occurred decades after the height of the AIDS epidemic demonstrated the persistence and importance of these community organizations to the Orlando community.


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Graduation Date





Gannon, Barbara


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



Degree Program





CFE0008055; DP0023194





Release Date


Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)