LGBT History Scotland
This text originally appeared as articles which were serialised in The Bulletin, the house journal of Body Positive Strathclyde. It was published as chapter eight of Frank Rice, HIV AND AIDS a brief history, 1998. Frank died a few years ago and so far I have been unable to find his obituary.
The Scottish Dimension
For a time in the 1980’s Edinburgh was known as the ‘AIDS capital of Europe’. This was so because HIV had spread rapidly throughout the drug using community there, through the practice of needle sharing, with the consequent inflation in the infection rate. It also explains why Scotland’s initial experience of HIV, drug, rather than gay related, differed from that undergone elsewhere in the UK. By the 1990’s however, more typical epidemiological patterns had established themselves in Scotland, with gay men being the largest category of infected persons.
The first cases of HIV infection in Scotland were recognised in 1984 amongst haemophiliacs, while routine HIV testing began in 1985. However, as early as 1982, a number of concerned people had decided collectively to ‘monitor’ the situation. This was the genesis of Scottish AIDS Monitor, the founding trustees of which were Derek Ogg, Edward McGough, Nigel Cook and Simon Taylor. Medical services have over time been delivered in the Lowland of Scotland through two primary outlets – the Edinburgh City and Glasgow Ruchill Hospitals. In Glasgow’s case, Ruchill had been the city’s venerable fever hospital. It had been somewhat underutilised since the triumphs against TB and polio in the 1950's but was now pressed back into use. In 1994 Glasgow also opened an outpatient unit, along with a gay men’s health clinic, The Steve Retson Project. at the Royal Infirmary. Leading Scottish HIV specialists have included Drs Ray Brettle, Clifford Lean and Sandy MacMillan at Edinburgh, Dr Tony France at Dundee and Drs Richard Hillman, Dermot Kennedy, Alan Pithie, and Anne Scoular at Glasgow.
The major player on the Scottish AIDS political scene between 1983 and 1996, in terms of advocacy, resourcing and prevention work, was the Scottish AIDS Monitor (SAM) Initially, it operated only in Edinburgh offering basic support services, but by the end of the 1980’s, it had grown to include branches in Lothian, Strathclyde, Tayside and Highland. With Maureen Moore as its long term Chief Executive, SAM offered welfare rights, buddying, training and prevention work, The initial thrust of this prevention work ‘was toward the heterosexual community but following pressure from the gay community, SAM’s Gay Men’s Project was launched in March 1994.
Internal tensions led to the end of SAM Strathclyde funding in 1995, with the subsequent closing of its Glasgow operations in the autumn of that year. A similar ‘shut off’ of funds in Edinburgh, resulted in the closure of Scottish AIDS Monitor in its entirety in 1996. A new agency, PHACE West (Project for HIV/AIDS Care and Education) spearheaded by, among others, the late Ken Cowan, Maureen Moore and John Wilkes, won funding in 1995 for West of Scotland work, while early in 1996, Gay Men’s Health took on the role of prevention work in Edinburgh. SAM’s work in the Highlands had already been taken over by Reach Out Highland.
Over the years, a number of other agencies joined SAM and its successors in the fight against HIV in Scotland. There has been, for a while, a proliferation of agencies in Edinburgh such as the Waverley Trust, with its Solas Centre and Milestone House (Scotland’s only AIDS hospice) and the sex workers groups Scot-PEP and SHIVA.
Glasgow has benefited from its HIV/AIDS Carers Support Group and from having a branch of ACET, (they also have a branch in Dundee). Also in 1991 an inter faith group was established out of which came the much loved Haven, the drop-in facility at Ruchill Hospital. Glasgow also has the Positive Accommodation Team and recently 'Food Line’, and Networks, (an HIV and sexual health education group), have been established in the city.
But no overview of the history of HIV and AIDS in Scotland is complete without reference to Body Positive. Body Positive had been established as an offshoot of the Terrence Higgins Trust in 1984, and certainly, by the end of the decade, an active group was operating in Edinburgh. Centres have also been established in Dundee and Fife.
It was John McClelland. for many years Chair of Body Positive Strathclyde, who took the initiative of establishing the group in Glasgow in 1988. Among other leading members in these early days were Kim Ferguson, Jamie McTaggart and the late Ken Cowan, Jamie Draper and Pat Gangel.
Initially, Body Positive Strathclyde consisted of a Wednesday night support group meeting in SAM’s Glasgow offices. But, with the help of the late Steve Retson, by this time SAMs Strathclyde Project Manager, and of Eric Kay, who became SAM’s first Gay Outreach Worker in Strathclyde in 1991, Body Positive Strathclyde’s remit widened to include prevention work, complementary therapies, advocacy and the famous Millport weekends.
Eric Kay became Body Positive Strathclyde’s first full-time Project Coordinator in 1993. A year later, in 1994, the group moved into its own premises in the basement of 3 Park Quadrant. In January 1995 the move upstairs to the present opulent premises took place.
In looking back over the history of HIV and AIDS in Scotland, it should be remembered that, in the Eighties, acquisition of an HIV diagnosis was a far more terminal prospect than may be the case now. There were no grounds for any optimism at all. Moreover, to 'go public’, even in a discreet way, about HIV, was a tremendously risky thing to do at this time, with the popular press in full sanctimonious cry, and with the ever present risk of exposure of one’s status. Furthermore, the self-empowering and self-enhancing ethos of Body Positive was threatening to some.
When these factors are borne in mind, then the courage of the pioneers of HIV and AIDS politics in Scotland, whether infected or affected is to be applauded: people such as the late Ken Cowan, Kim Ferguson, Eric Kay, Maureen Moore, John McClelland, Jamie McTaggart, Derek Ogg, the late Steve Retson, and all the countless others who stood up to be counted about HIV in Scotland.