100 Heroes: Daniel Defert

The gay man who founded HIV advocacy in France.

100 Heroes: Daniel Defert

Daniel Defert was the partner of the late philosopher Michel Foucault. Following the death of Foucault, Defert founded AIDES – the first advocacy group in France that focused on HIV and AIDS.

Let’s take a look at Defert’s life and career.

Early life

Born in 1937, Defert studied philosophy and sociology.

He went on to become a professor of sociology, teaching at the Université Paris VIII Vincennes.

In 1963, Defert met Foucault while he was a philosophy student at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France. They were together until Foucault’s death in 1984.

AIDS research and activism

Following Foucault’s death, Defert founded AIDES – the first AIDS awareness organisation in France. The name of the organisation, AIDES, plays on the English acronym and the French world for help. Defert served as president of AIDES from 1984 to 1991.

Defert was a member of the scientific committee for human sciences of the International Conference on AIDS, a member of the World Commission for AIDS, a member of the National Committee for AIDS, a member of the Global AIDS Policy Coalition of Harvard University, and a member of of the French Haut Comité de la Santé Publique.

Defert was awarded the decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and received the Alexander Onassis prize for the creation of AIDES.

Foucault estate

After Foucault’s death, Defert inherited his estate despite the fact that their partnership preceded French government recognition of same-sex couples through civil unions or marriage, and also despite the fact that Foucault left no official will.

Foucault had written a letter indicating his intention to bequeath his apartment and all its contents, which included his archive and corrected proofs for an unpublished manuscript, to Defert. Other family members deferred to Foucault’s wishes.

In 2013, Defert sold Foucault’s archives to France’s national library, making the material available to researchers.

Defert died in 2023, at the age of 85.

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