Often discussed solely in terms terms of gay men, AIDS had an impact on lesbians as well. Previously, lesbian and gay people had existed more as side-by-side entities than as one community. The epidemic brought the two together as lesbians cared and fought for ailing gay men.
The influx of AIDS patients to hospitals made acute many of the iniquities faced by same-sex couples. Because same-sex relationships were not legally recognized, hospitals could deny a gay man visitation rights, or say over the health needs of his life-partner dying of AIDS. Upon the death of a partner, the surviving person was also denied the rights and benefits accorded married couples. In 1986, a New York City gay man, Miguel Braschi, was threatened eviction when his partner died of AIDS-related complications. The case was ultimately decided in favor of Braschi. It was the first United States court decision to give any legal protection to same-sex couples.
In 1982, The Village Voice newspaper in New York became the first corporate entity to pro- vide health and other benefits to unmarried partners of employees, and in 1984, the city of Berkeley was the first to offer domestic partnership benefits for public employees. However, these small steps underscored the vulnerability of the vast majority of committed gay and lesbian couples in this era. Same-sex couples continued to be denied benefits, non-citizens deported over the wishes of their same-sex partner, and children removed from the homes of gay and lesbian parents. Anti-sodomy laws, which were upheld by the 1986 United States Supreme Court decision Bowers v. Hardwick, continued to make presumptive criminals of gay and lesbian people and to make an argument against providing them benefits and rights.
ROBERTA ACHTENBERG GREW UP IN Los Angeles and attended law school in San Francisco. In 1989, she was elected to that city’s Board of Supervisors. Three years later, after she spoke at the 1992 National Democratic Convention, President Clinton chose her to be the Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. After a bruising United States Senate confirmation battle, she became the first openly LGBTQ presidential appointee. Since completing her work for the federal government, she has served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of California State University. In 2011, President Obama named her to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.