A Litany of Saints: Remembering the Early Years of HIV/AIDS Activism in the First Year of a New Pandemic

Mary C. Foltz

Lehigh University

Adrian Shanker

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

Liz Bradbury

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

Kristen Leipert

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center




With the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S., many LGBTQ people found ourselves reflecting upon the early years of HIV/AIDS and how our communities responded to the lack of robust federal and state response to this preceding public health crisis. As the leaders of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center (BSC) in eastern Pennsylvania became a central resource for our community sharing up-to-date information about COVID-19 and organizing vaccine clinics, they also recognized the historic nature of this moment as many elders in our community consistently tried to make sense of the current crisis by contemplating their past AIDS activism and organizing. In March of 2020, BSC staff and archivists received grant funding to conduct an oral history project called “40 Years of Public Health in the LGBTQ Community: Collecting and Curating Local LGBTQ Health Experiences From HIV/AIDS to COVID-19,” which recorded both timely commentary on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ people and memories of HIV/AIDS organizing that seemed urgent and relevant to our contemporary moment. Offering excerpts from oral histories collected in 2020, this piece explores how COVID-19 spurred LGBTQ people in the Lehigh Valley to share stories about communal grief, health inequity, political responses to pandemics, and organizing to support the health of minoritized communities.


Keywords: COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, oral histories, LGBTQ community archives