adversity lgbt

40 Years of Adversity and Progress

March 1, 2024

In February, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of APCO. As with every celebration, this was an opportunity to look back and look ahead.

In some countries around the world, February is LGBT History month, so I wanted to chart the 40-year journey of boldness and courage of the LGBT community, both at APCO and around the world.

Guide You Through the Purple Rain

Casting our minds back to 1984, it’s the year of “Purple Rain” by Prince and “Time After Time” by Cindy Lauper. These were worldwide hits across many countries where APCO operates; the latter was a love song but the former focused, according to Prince, on:

“when there’s blood in the sky… red and blue make purple. Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting faith guide you through the purple rain.”

Looking back, this is apt to describe what was happening in the LGBT community, first in the United States and then throughout Europe and the rest of the world: the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Act Up, Speak Up

1984 was the year that the retrovirus that causes HIV/AIDS was identified for the first time by scientists working in the United States. A year earlier, scientists in France had identified the same virus but named it differently. This helped raise public awareness of the AIDS epidemic in the Western world. By the end of the decade, there would be 400,000 AIDS cases worldwide.

As the LGBT community was disproportionally affected by the AIDS epidemic, this gave rise to protest and activist groups such as ACT UP in the United States. Adversity brought the community together but also created divisions because there were many other challenges facing society, especially economically and politically.

Political Allyship

Economically, 1984 was a challenging year in the Western world. The Iron Curtain was still in place and Germany was still divided. The tigers of the Middle East and Asia had yet to roar and the global economy was contracting after the energy crises of the 1970s.

During this time, the LGBT community became a force to reckon with to support those hardest hit by the economic challenges. In the United Kingdom, the Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners group came out in support of the striking miners across the country. Chris Smith came out as the first gay Member of Parliament to show that the LGBT community could have a political voice too.

It Gets Better

Today’s LGBT community stands on the shoulders of these pioneers: fighting for recognition of AIDS victims, support for the poor and vulnerable, and the awakening of political consciousness. Knowing where we come from, means we’re able to recognise that “it gets better.

Since 1984, there has been an extraordinary journey to progress the rights of the LGBT community. But not without hard work and sacrifice; the present and the future holds significant challenges for the rainbow community.

It is the same for APCO as it embarks on the next 40 years. As CEO Brad Staples said on the 40th anniversary: “the new brand reflects APCO’s 40-year journey of boldness and courage, overcoming hurdles by drawing on our diverse team’s insights and expertise.” The LGBT community at APCO, organised in its European and North American ERGs, makes a significant contribution to that.

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