HIV/AIDS Antidiscrimination Ordinance

AIDS Cases Reported in Orange County Per Year, 1982-1989
Year ReportedCases
Before 19822
Data courtesy of: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention (NCHSTP), AIDS Public Information Data Set (APIDS) US Surveillance Data for 1981-2002, CDC WONDER On-line Database, December 2005. Accessed at on Jul 4, 2023 6:37:11 PM.

By 1989, Orange County faced the growing HIV/AIDS crisis with 944 reported cases, and likely many more unreported. Several California counties, including San Diego, Alameda, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, passed ordinances to prohibit discrimination against people with AIDS. A committee in Orange County recommended a similar anti-discrimination ordinance, which would have protected individuals with AIDS from discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. However, religious right leader Louis Sheldon opposed the ordinance, viewing it as part of the “gay agenda.”

Sheldon argued against the ordinance, claiming that it was unnecessary. He denied the existence of discrimination against people with AIDS and stated that churches and small businesses should not be forced to hire individuals with AIDS. Sheldon also rejected the idea of homosexuality as an innate characteristic deserving minority status. He attempted to undermine queer rights by portraying them as seeking special privileges not guaranteed by the Constitution.

This is not a health issue. This is nothing more than a back-door effort to legitimize the behavior of homosexuals.

Louis Sheldon qtd. by Chris Knap, “Battle Lines Forming Over AIDS Measure,” Orange County Register, June 9, 1989.

When the Board of Supervisors rejected the ordinance in a 3-2 vote, queer activists staged a protest outside the Santa Ana Civic Center. They held a “die-in” to symbolize AIDS deaths and called attention to the discrimination faced by the queer community. The activists drew parallels between their struggle and the Civil Rights Movement, aiming to gain support and highlight the impact of homophobic discrimination.

The use of symbolism was significant during the protest. The activists wore t-shirts with upside-down triangles, referencing the Nazi persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. They emphasized the ACT UP slogan “Action = Life” to highlight the urgency of their fight against the HIV/AIDS crisis. The American flag was also present, symbolizing their identity as Americans and their right to equal treatment. The flag was draped over a mock coffin, symbolizing the lives lost to AIDS and challenging society to acknowledge their suffering.

We oppose taking a homosexual status and giving it true minority status, like being black or handicapped. We can’t give that right to a behavior-based minority. There’s nothing constitutional about giving a behavior-based minority a special privilege.

Louis Sheldon qtd. by Thomas Becher, “‘Die-In’ Staged to Protest Supervisors’ Vote on AIDS Law,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1989.

Six months later, activists placed gravestones outside the Civic Center on International AIDS Awareness Day. Each gravestone represented someone who had died from HIV/AIDS complications, emphasizing the growing number of lives lost. The activists stood guard over the graves for twenty-four hours, continuing their protest and raising awareness about the issue.

Orange County: 457 cases of AIDS

Sign at the protest on International AIDS Awareness Day, reported by Thomas Becher, “’Die-In’ Staged to Protest Supervisors’ Vote on AIDS Law,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1989.

Selma, ’62, Santa Ana, ’89.

Sign at the protest on International AIDS Awareness Day, reported by Thomas Becher, “’Die-In’ Staged to Protest Supervisors’ Vote on AIDS Law,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1989.

Despite the rejection of the antidiscrimination ordinance, Orange County activists remained committed to fighting for their rights. Over time, antidiscrimination legislation related to sexuality and HIV status was passed in various parts of the United States, thanks in part to the efforts and publicity generated by Orange County activists.

Overall, the activists’ protests aimed to combat discrimination, educate the public, and advocate for the rights and dignity of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Orange County. Their actions helped shape the conversation around queer rights and contributed to the advancement of antidiscrimination legislation nationwide.

Last updated: July 4, 2023