Let's talk about sex'

30+ Years of Community Activism
in Greater Manchester

This exhibit forms part of LGBT Foundation’s Let’s Talk About Sex video history project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project documents the stories of people across Greater Manchester involved or affected by campaigns on sexual health and HIV prevention sparked by the AIDS crisis. This exhibit showcases a selection of visual materials from those campaigns and provides some historical context to the fight against HIV and other STIs in Greater Manchester.

The exhibit cannot provide a comprehensive history and we encourage you to view the materials here alongside the video testimonies, clips of which are available online lgbt.foundation/letstalkaboutsexmcr and in the North West Film archive pods at Manchester Central Library.

logo of Heritage Lottery Fund logo of the LGBT Foundation
logo of Heritage Lottery Fund logo of the LGBT Foundation

A New Virus

In 1980 reports emerged from the United States of people presenting with unusual symptoms associated with immune collapse, followed by rapid deterioration and death. The first cases in the United Kingdom were reported in 1982.

Initially referred to as HTLV-III, or Gay Related Immune Disorder (GRID), then most commonly ‘AIDS’ (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), in 1986 the blood-borne virus was officially named HIV. It is now believed HIV had already killed many people over several decades, often those without access to medical care.

In Manchester, the first meeting about HIV took place in 1984 at the Thompsons Arms in the Gay Village, leading to the formation of Manchester AIDSline in 1985, one of the first HIV-specific organisations in the country. The helpline offered support and information about HIV to thousands of callers.

Uncertainty about how HIV was passed on initially led health authorities to adopt disproportionate and sometimes draconian infection control measures. In 1985, one man diagnosed with HIV was quarantined against his will at North Manchester General Hospital, leading to protests for his release.

Misreporting in the media added to a sense of fear and anxiety about HIV. Much of the coverage tended to stigmatise people living with HIV, and anyone considered vulnerable to the disease, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users and people of colour. Inaccurately dubbed the ‘gay plague’, in 1987 The Sun newspaper openly called for the deportation of all gay men from the UK.

  1. A flyer promoting a meeting about HIV in Manchester, 1985.
  2. A Manchester Evening News report about an ambulance that was decommissioned after transporting a man living with HIV to Oldham Royal Infirmary, 9th September 1986.
  3. The government’s Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign included billboards like this one on Stockport Road, Levenshulme, circa 1986. Image supplied by Manchester Archives and Local Studies.
image of a flyer promoting a meeting about HIV in Manchester, 1985
image of a Manchester Evening News report about an ambulance that was decommissioned after transporting a man living with HIV to Oldham Royal Infirmary, 9th September 1986
image of the government’s Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign included billboards like this one on Stockport Road, Levenshulme, circa 1986. Image supplied by Manchester Archives and Local Studies

The Invention of Safe(r) Sex

Many of the risks and social stigmas associated with sex have historically been borne by women. Feminist movements have long campaigned for access to contraception and safe abortions, achieving this in England, Wales and Scotland in 1967. Access to abortion in Northern Ireland remains much more limited.

In the 1980s and 1990s, gay and bisexual men developed the concept of safe(r) sex to minimise the risks of HIV transmission. Founded in 1990, Manchester MESMAC used sex-positive imagery in campaigns to educate men who have sex with men about ways of minimizing risk, especially the use of condoms.

MESMAC was supported by the special AIDS unit set up by Manchester City Council, one of the first local authorities to adopt a policy on HIV/AIDS. Nationally, safer sex efforts were hampered by the UK’s obscenity laws. The Department of Health was forced to use diplomatic bags to smuggle safer sex materials into the country from the United States to avoid them being seized at customs.

image of the Manchester MESMAC poster, circa 1992
image of the Manchester AIDSline poster, 1985
image of the Manchester MESMAC poster, circa 1992

In 1986, the government launched the controversial Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign. A leaflet about HIV was delivered to every household, and adverts, featuring the infamous tombstones and icebergs, were broadcast on television.

In 1988 the Conservative government introduced ‘Section 28’, a clause of the Local Government Act forbidding the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ and ‘pretended family relationships’ in schools. The legislation had a chilling effect that made it difficult to have frank conversations about sexuality and HIV prevention strategies in education settings and beyond.

  1. Manchester AIDSline poster, 1985.
  2. Manchester MESMAC poster, circa 1992.

Manchester Acts Up!

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the combination of HIV/AIDS and Section 28 meant that many LGBT people felt under siege, fuelling waves of protest and direct action in Manchester. In 1988 tens of thousands of people rallied in Albert Square against Section 28, the largest demonstration in the country. The legislation was only finally repealed in 2003.

Activists from the Section 28 protests formed Manchester ACT UP, a chapter of the direct action movement, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, founded in New York in 1987. ACT UP used attention grabbing stunts to raise awareness of HIV and to challenge the discriminatory practices of government and private companies. In one action, ACT UP members stuffed tennis balls with condoms, sending them over the walls of Strangeways prison in protest at the government’s refusal to distribute condoms in prison settings.

image of a protest against Section 28 at the Albert Memorial, Manchester, 1988 image of Manchester ACT UP action against GMP police Commissioner James Anderton CBE, who commented that ‘gays, drug addicts and prostitutes’ living with HIV were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making,’ 1990
image of Manchester ACT UP boycott action against Texaco’s discriminatory HIV policies, 1991
image of Machester ACT UP action against the high prices charged by Burroughs Wellcome for anti-retrorviral therapies, 1992
  1. Protest against Section 28 at the Albert Memorial, Manchester, 1988.
  2. Manchester ACT UP action against GMP police Commissioner James Anderton CBE, who commented that ‘gays, drug addicts and prostitutes’ living with HIV were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making,’ 1990.
  3. Manchester ACT UP boycott action against Texaco’s discriminatory HIV policies, 1991.
  4. Machester ACT UP action against the high prices charged by Burroughs Wellcome for anti-retrorviral therapies, 1992.

Serving Communities

During the 1990s and 2000s, a raft of organisations emerged in Manchester focused on providing support and care services to increasing numbers of people living with HIV, whilst stepping up prevention campaigns on sexually transmitted infections.

Body Positive North West was initially a self-help group run by and for people living with HIV. It provided a regular support group, a helpline and newsletter, as well as community care services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Founded in 1990, the Black HIV/AIDS Forum was set up as a response to the lack of culturally appropriate information and services available to black communities in Manchester around HIV. It also provided a counselling service. Today, BHAF operates as BHA for Equality in Health and Social Care.

image of detail from Body Positive Newsletter, 1995
image of a Healthy Gay Manchester postcard, circa 1995
image of a Health Gay Manchester safer sex pack, circa 1996
  1. Black HIV/AIDS Forum activists at Manchester Mardi Gras, circa 1994.
  2. Illustration from the 25 year anniversary celebrations of Manchester Action on Street Health, 2016.
  3. Detail from Body Positive Newsletter, 1995.
  4. Healthy Gay Manchester postcard, circa 1995.
  5. Health Gay Manchester safer sex pack, circa 1996.
image of black HIV/AIDS Forum activists at Manchester Mardi Gras, circa 1994
an illustration from the 25 year anniversary celebrations of Manchester Action on Street Health, 2016
image of detail from Body Positive Newsletter, 1995
image of a Healthy Gay Manchester postcard, circa 1995
image of a Health Gay Manchester safer sex pack, circa 1996

Manchester Action on Street Health (MASH) was formed in 1991 to provide support to women sex workers, including a needle exchange as well free access to condoms. MASH has since expanded its services to offer a fully holistic support service to women in sex work.

In 1994, campaigners from Manchester MESMAC set up Healthy Gay Manchester, dedicated to improving sexual health amongst gay men. HGM pioneered a free condom and lube distribution scheme in Greater Manchester that became a model for the rest of the country. In 2000, HGM merged with the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard to become the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, and now LGBT Foundation.

Operating since 1985, Manchester AIDSline was succeeded by the George House Trust, today the largest HIV charity in the North West. GHT is currently the main provider of services to people living with HIV in Greater Manchester, and plays a pivotal role in coordinating the World AIDS Day Vigil.

  1. Black HIV/AIDS Forum activists at Manchester Mardi Gras, circa 1994.
  2. Illustration from the 25 year anniversary celebrations of Manchester Action on Street Health, 2016.
  3. Detail from Body Positive Newsletter, 1995.
  4. Healthy Gay Manchester postcard, circa 1995.
  5. Health Gay Manchester safer sex pack, circa 1996.

Prevention Timeline

2018

30th World AIDS day will be marked on 1st December 2018

2017

In 2017, Manchester's Proud Trust launches the Sexuality aGender: An Inclusive Sexual Health Toolkit aimed at young people

PrEP (Pre exposure prophylaxis) available through NHS Scotland, trials in England and Wales

2015

BHA for Equality in Health and Social Care and LGBT Foundation launch a new rapid HIV testing service in Greater Manchester

2014

HIV self-testing kits first available in UK

2012

First National HIV Testing Week

2011

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) available on the NHS

2003

Manchester City Council launches S-Expert guide for young people

2002

Lesbian and Gay Foundation rolls out HIV testing in non-clinical community venues

1999

Globally it is estimated that 34 million people are living with HIV, whilst 16 million have since died of AIDS (advanced HIV)

1997

Manchester remembers those lost to HIV with the Beacon of Hope in Sackville Gardens, the only dedicated HIV/AIDS monument in the country

1996

Combination HIV drug treatment available on NHS, but unaffordable in Global South

1994

Healthy Gay Manchester initiates the first condom and lube distribution scheme in Greater Manchester

1991

The newly founded Village Charity organises a Bank Holiday fundraiser, the forerunner to Manchester Pride

The Red Ribbon becomes the worldwide symbol of HIV/AIDS solidarity

1987

First antibody HIV test approved in the U.S., used primarily to screen blood donations

AZT, first drug approved for treatment of HIV

Don’t Die of Ignorance advertising campaign

1980's ONWARDS

Condoms promoted for HIV prevention

The Future of HIV Prevention

In 2016 activists launched the Undetectable = Untransmittable campaign, following evidence that a person living with HIV with an undetectable viral load will not pass on HIV to a partner. With an active presence in 70 countries, the global U=U campaign seeks to educate people about HIV transmission and reduce stigma towards those living with HIV.

LGBT Foundation’s Trans programme is addressing the under-representation of trans people in sexual health initiatives with the publication of a special Trans Sexual Health guide in 2018. The resource features artwork that aims to reflect a diverse range of trans bodies, something often lacking in sexual health campaigns.

image showing a promotion a new rapid finger-prick test, ‘Give HIV the Finger’ was the slogan of National HIV Testing Week in 2017
Artwork by Julian Gray, from LGBT Foundation’s forthcoming Trans Guide to Sexual Health, 2018
image showing a promotion a new rapid finger-prick test, ‘Give HIV the Finger’ was the slogan of National HIV Testing Week in 2017

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a pill taken before sex that protects people from contracting HIV. Previous trials have shown that PrEP is a highly effective tool in HIV prevention. PrEP is now available on the NHS in Scotland, and through NHS trials in England and Wales.

Passionate about Sexual Health (PaSH) is a new partnership between BHA for Equality, George House Trust and LGBT Foundation, that provides integrated HIV prevention, sexual health and wellbeing support programmes across Greater Manchester. This partnership marks a new phase of co-ordination in the city’s sexual health provision.

The 30th World AIDS day will be marked on 1st December 2018. Worlds AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

  1. Artwork by Julian Gray, from LGBT Foundation’s forthcoming Trans Guide to Sexual Health, 2018.
  2. Promoting a new rapid finger-prick test, ‘Give HIV the Finger’ was the slogan of National HIV Testing Week in 2017.

LGBT Foundation

image of a respect your Sex safer sex campaign
image of a cover of OutNorthWest, 2003

In its various incarnations LGBT Foundation has been a driving force in safer sex campaigning for the last 30 years, and has used a variety of innovative approaches to get its messages across.

These upfront and unapologetically gay campaigns combined explicit imagery, sex positive language, and featured models recruited from the community, and often stimulated intense debate.

In 1994 Healthy Gay Manchester launched one of the first free Condom and Lube distribution schemes in the country for gay and bisexual men. The longest continuously running scheme of its kind, it has grown to distribute over 500,000 individual condoms and 500,000 sachets of water based lube every year.

In response to the difficulty of getting safer sex messages into the wider media, Lesbian and Gay Foundation founded OutNorthWest magazine, which from 2000 - 2014 became the leading regional lesbian, gay and bisexual people's publication with a monthly readership of over 75,000.

The needs of LGBT communities have changed but LGBT Foundation continues to be there by providing a listening ear, a friendly smile, life-saving information, life-enhancing services and support to LGBT people who’ve often had nowhere else to turn.

lgbt.foundation

  1. Respect your Sex safer sex campaign
  2. Cover of OutNorthWest, 2003.