On This Gay Day: AIDS activist organisation ACT UP formed

In 1987 ACT UP is formed in NYC

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed on this day back in 1987. Two days earlier activist Larry Kramer gave a speech at the NYC Gay and Lesbian Centre as part of a rotating series of speakers.

He spoke about his frustration with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) which he described as being politically impotent. Kramer had been one of the founders of the organisation when the AIDS crisis began but had resigned from its board in 1983.

At the end of his speech he asked people if they wanted to form a new political organisation, two days later several hundred people showed up for the first meeting.

On 24 March people demonstrated on Wall Street and Broadway in New York demanding greater access to HIV medications and a coordinated national approach to combating HIV.

While many countries around the world were quick to set up strategies for tackling the health epidemic, the USA’s government lead by President Ronald Reagan was slower to respond.

Over the next few months ACT UP staged several large protests in New York, often hundreds of their members were arrested during their protest actions. Soon there were ACT UP chapters in several cities across the country.

The organisation often captured media attention by closing down government offices or undertaking elaborately coordinated protests. They successfully shut down the US Food and Drug Administration for a day, and in 1991 drew attention to Senator Jesse Helms – who opposed funding for AIDS causes, by covering his house with a giant condom.

Artist Keith Haring created a series of artworks using the slogan ‘Silence = Death’ that were used by the organisation.

The achievements of ACT UP have been recreated in fictionalised form in the TV series POSE, and the French chapter is central to the film BPM. Documentaries including How to Survive as Plague also cover their work.

OIP Staff, This post was first published on 10th March 2020. 


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