AIDS capital of the world: Representing race, sex and space in Belle Glade, Florida


In 1985, a small agricultural center in south Florida became the site of a controversy when two scientists reported unexpectedly high numbers of AIDS cases and proposed that mosquito transmission might be the explanation. This article examines the representation of Belle Glade in print mass media and professional research journals from 1985 to the mid-1990s in order to demonstrate the role of racialized constructions of space in producing the category of heterosexual transmission and in establishing its distinction from normative heterosexuality. Employing a strategy of scalar shift, representations of Belle Glade invoked various and sometimes incommensurate spatial registers to construct racialized hierarchies which promised to provide effective borders around the mobility of HIV. The trope of containment not only misrepresented the spatiality of sexual networks, but also treated those most at risk of HIV infection as a threat to the nation rather than as those most in need of intervention and support. In Belle Glade, the material effects of this exclusionary practice included placing responsibility on the town's residents for its difficulties while effacing larger structural forces that produced its particular geography. Although these events took place in the first decade of the AIDS crisis, they offer a rich opportunity to integrate Belle Glade into an understanding of the US AIDS epidemic as well as to consider many of the challenges HIV/AIDS continues to present globally, especially around the intersection of race, gender, poverty, international capitalism and locally diverse experiences.



Publication Date


Publication Title

Gender, Place, and Culture


Comparative American Studies

Document Type




AIDS (Disease), Sexual orientation, Sex (Psychology), HIV infections