Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

This guide offers a history of various movements by citizens in the United States to gain political and social freedom and equality. It highlights resources available through the library and also offers a list of current civil rights organizations.

The HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The United States was the focal point of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The disease was first noticed en masse by doctors who treated gay men in Southern California, San Francisco, and New York City in 1981. When cases of AIDS first emerged in the U.S., they tended to originate among either men who had sex with other men, hemophiliacs, and heroin users. The fact that the disease was also prevalent among Haitians led to the "Four-H Club" of groups at high risk of AIDS. Though some believe that AIDS began in the U.S.A. in the 80's, the truth is that it this is when people became aware of HIV and when it gained recognition as a health condition. It is believed to have been in the U.S. long before that - perhaps as early as the 1960s. The first reported cases of HIV are believed to have come from Kinshasa in or around 1920. It was transferred from monkeys and chimps to humans. The prevalence of the disease among gay men in the U.S. in the 80s and 90s initially resulted in a stigma against homosexuals and a general fear and misunderstanding regarding how AIDS was spread. However, as celebrities like Rock Hudson and Freddie Mercury revealed that they had the disease, and Magic Johnson came forward with HIV, and dedicated his retirement to educating others about the virus, attitudes began to change. In 2010, a U.S. travel ban on HIV-positive people that had been in effect since 1987 was lifted, allowing them to finally enter the country without a waiver.

Notable Supreme Court Cases

  • Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624 (1998) - in this case, the Court held that reproduction does count as a major life activity under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) and that those with HIV are covered under the ADA even if they have not yet manifested visible symptoms or illness.

Library Resources

Acts to protect those with HIV/AIDS

President Obama signing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extention Act of 2009, which provides medical and support services for those with HIV/AIDS. Credit

President Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. This act offers protection against discrimination for those with HIV/AIDS.