How does individual trauma influence collective memory? Within queer communities, key social institutions are responsible for communalizing experiences of suffering, forming group narratives of trauma that are shared across vast spatial and generational gaps. These narratives continue to influence individual behavior years after the initial trauma, informing ideas of collective identity within the queer community. In my analysis of 10 interviews, I examined how experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic were influenced by understandings of HIV/AIDS. My interviewees were self-identified members of the queer community spanning many age groups; some of my participants were old enough to remember the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in America, while others had only learned of it through second-hand information. I observed that those who had lived through the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic drew on personal experiences when comparing the two pandemics, reflecting more specific, individualized trauma. However, the institutions through which older participants processed this trauma, namely gay bars, schools, and family networks, created and spread broader, more general narratives of HIV/AIDS that younger interviewees related to their COVID-19 experiences. All of my respondents made comparisons between COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS mitigation strategies that reflected greater awareness of public health policy within the community, generating greater investment in public health. These findings suggest that pandemics are trauma-generating, with lasting, intergenerational effects that impact a community’s future public health outcomes.
Williams, Aidan M., "Plague! Public Health, Community Memory, and HIV/AIDS" (2022). Sociology Honors Projects. 66.
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