The myth that we all spent the 1980’s attending funerals

By | 31st March 2024

The recent ITV documentary about Paul O’Grady AKA the drag queen Lily Savage again gave the impression that, in the 1980s, gay men spent their whole time in hospitals and attending the funerals of others who had died from AIDS.

No doubt that was Paul’s genuine personal experience as he worked as a stand-up comedian in London gay pubs such as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

But it’s important to note the gay scene was, and is, a small bubble. A rather extreme, alcohol-fueled environment where everyone tends to know each other. In most towns and cities there has always been a relatively small number of  low capacity bars and clubs that often are populated by the same individuals week in and week out. So the scene has never represented or consisted of most gay people.

Stereotypical gay men at a funeral

Although the 1980s was a rather frightening time, actual personal experience depended on your lifestyle and circle of friends.  The fact is, many gay men didn’t know anyone who died or perhaps one friend did.

Every death was a tragedy of course. But a version of what happened, from just one perspective, has become a propaganda weapon to be used so that certain people and organisations can play the victim and seek funding.

The official stats from Public Health England tell the story. These show that, by the end of the 1980s, 2,173 males were recorded as having died from AIDS, both gay and straight. In 1989 the UK population stood at 57.08 million. If 3% of adults were a gay or bi man that would be some 700,000 males.

HIV deaths in the 1980s

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