AIDS Movement

The first AIDS outbreak occurred in America in the 1980s and very little attention was given to those who suffered from the disease. America had a severe lack of knowledge about where it came from and how to treat it. The majority of “”the healthcare industry and the federal government ignored the epidemic as it emerged among gay men (Myers). With only one expensive drug available, coupled with unproductive clinical trials, a lack of funding, and society, including Reagan, ignoring the issue, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, ACT UP was established.

The exclusion was created by the majority not affected by the disease and religious groups, who were against homosexuality. In America’s history, persecution against non-heterosexuals was common. If the disease affected another group, much more research and treatments would be present. Society was grossly uninformed about the disease. Some of this misinformation was “”AIDS could be passed through public bathrooms, pools, and drinking fountains ( This reflected the weariness of Americans to assist non-heterosexuals. “”Twenty states considered legislation in the 1980s that would have quarantined or tattooed people with AIDS”” which closely mirrors the markings Jewish people received from Germans during WWII (Myers).

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The NYC Health Commissioner cut “”the estimate of HIV infected gay and bisexual men from 450,000 to 50,000 (Payton). This significantly decreased the amount of research on AIDS. In 1988, the FDA’s only distributed drug, AZT, was an ‘””orphan drug’ (treating a disease which affects under 200,000 people) (Payton 18) and was $10,000 a year per person (“”AZT’s). Due to high prices, this excluded victims.

The government excluded women from this drug, claiming they needed to be sterile. This introduced a dilemma for women: destroy any possibility of bearing a child or remain excluded from the treatment. The FDA did not offer IV drug users treatment, who accounted for 31% of AIDS victims in NYC (Payton). In clinical trials, participants were often given a placebo, sugar pills, and not allowed to take any other medication.

The movement, from 1987 to 2012, began organizing in New York in 1987. Larry Kramer launched ACT UP nine months after the 1986 Supreme Court case ruling that homosexual romantic actions were illegal. A New York demonstration requested affordable AZT and resulted in a $2,000 price reduction (“”AZT’s). These led to larger successes, such as founding the first AIDS organization, the Gay Men’s Health Cross and marches, which led to the media portraying activists as “”normal in 1993.

A goal was to link allies, such as gays and lesbians, with sympathizers, to form larger groups for events. People came together to coordinate marches, protests, and proposals. The Women’s Committee, joined the movement, connecting lesbians and gays. ACT UP used street propaganda with signs, clothing, and songs to represent people suffering from AIDS. A slogan titled “”Silence=Death”” was a right side up pink triangle to combat the upside down pink triangle used to identify gays in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1988 Civil Rights Commission hearing about “”the right to discriminate against people with AIDS (Piven), ACT UP activists sat in the audience wearing clown masks and silently protested.

Initially ACT UP wanted to reflect Martin Luther King’s strategy of peace within Civil Rights, and to link with The Early Gay Liberation Movement. The strategies were to remain non-violent and project victims as “”normal. They protested outside churches to “”Stop the church”” and end religious discrimination (Piven). Many affinity groups, such as “”the Mary’s carried open caskets from Washington Square to the New York Republican Party, and around the White House to visualize the affects from restricting research and funding on AIDS (Piven). One shirt said, “”If I die from AIDS, no burial, drop me off at the steps of the FDA (“”Fight).

With time, the demographics within the movement changed as more women and people of color were diagnosed with AIDS. Issues of gender and race added to ones already present in the movement. Women were initially diagnosed after death and a new slogan was adopted: ‘””Women don’t get AIDS. They just die from it’ (Piven). Females wanted the same treatment and opportunities as men and African Americans wanted the same quality of treatment as white males.

The outcomes from this movement were spread over time. Cheaper treatment and more trials became available for men, women, and people of color. In 1995-1996, there was a scientific breakthrough. Protease inhibitors suppressed the viruses in the bloodstream of AIDS victims, reducing deaths (Piven). This method was more affordable, and the first treatment was titled Saquinavir. Unfortunately, the split with race broadened as more African Americans accounted for deaths from AIDS. In 1999, ACT UP was supporting third world countries that were unable to afford treatment. But, the government opposed the plan from South Africa to produce expensive drugs to fight the disease in Africa (Piven). ACT UP did dissipate, but smaller groups still remain and advocate for those suffering with HIV and AIDS.

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