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ACTION ON AIDS

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FIGHTING DISCRIMINATION

ACT UP Gran Fury Poster
ACT UP protest at the National Institutes of Health, 1990 Courtesy Donna Binder

"It is time to put self-defeating attitudes aside and recognize that we are fighting a disease—not people."—Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, 1986

Autographed photograph of President Ronald Reagan and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop shaking hands President Ronald Reagan and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, 1980s
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Audio Tour Audio Tour Stop #11 Transcript
The Surgeon General's Report on AIDS The Surgeon General's Report on AIDS, 1986
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
In 1986, five years after AIDS was first reported and with more than ten thousand people in the United States thought to have died from the disease, President Reagan acknowledged the epidemic by asking Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to prepare a report. Dr. Koop surprised both his supporters and critics by his straightforward approach and frank endorsement of condoms and sex education as ways to prevent the spread of the disease.

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TAKING QUESTIONS:

Watch President Reagan answer questions on AIDS publicly for the first time, September 17, 1985.

Transcript
Ryan White sits at desk in class Ryan White at his new school in Cicero, Indiana, 1987
Courtesy Mary Ann Carter
In 1985, Ryan White, a 13-year-old hemophiliac with AIDS, was barred from attending school on the grounds that he might transmit HIV to other students. Although he eventually won a court battle to return to classes, Ryan and his family experienced ongoing intimidation and harassment. They moved from Howard County to Cicero, Indiana in 1987, where Ryan became an honor-roll student.
Ryan White on cover of People Magazine People magazine, May 30, 1988
Courtesy PEOPLE Magazine © 2007 Time Inc. All Rights reserved
Letter from Eugene Lera to Ryan White Letter from 11-year-old Eugene Lera to Ryan White, 1988
Courtesy The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Ryan White educated people about the facts of the disease and advocated for the rights of people living with AIDS. In 1988, in one of many letters children and adults around the world sent to Ryan, Eugene Lera of Vineland, New Jersey, wrote to ask a question and express his hope for a cure.
Ryan White speaks to cameramen and reporters outside his school Ryan White speaks to the media, Hamilton Heights High School, Cicero, 1987
Courtesy Mary Ann Carter
The media coverage of Ryan White's experiences exposed the discrimination experienced by people living with HIV and AIDS. He was interviewed on numerous television stations and appeared on the cover of People magazine twice before his death in 1990. His story helped many people become more sympathetic towards people living with the disease.

ACT UP starts up

"All People With AIDS Are Innocent"—ACT UP slogan, 1980s

Audio Tour Audio Tour Stop #12 Transcript
ACT UP Gran Fury Poster AIDS activism poster by the Silence = Death Project, 1986
Courtesy International Gay Information Center Collection. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
In New York in 1987, about three hundred people formed the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), to challenge discrimination against people living with AIDS. They launched a series of provocative demonstrations to campaign for AIDS research and HIV prevention education. The slogan Silence = Death, developed by an activist art collective later known as Gran Fury, appeared with the inverted pink triangle, a symbol of gay rights, on many of the group's posters and placards.
Page from Vito Russo's diary Vito Russo's diary, 1980s
Courtesy Vito Russo papers. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
In 1985, shortly after Vito Russo's partner Jeffrey Sevcik was diagnosed with AIDS, Russo expressed his profound sadness at the slow recognition of the true scale of the epidemic: "The world is beginning to wake up to all of this." Both men died from the disease and are remembered in panels of The AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Vito Russo speaks at an ACT UP rally Vito Russo speaks at an ACT UP rally, Washington DC, 1988
Courtesy Marc Geller Photography
Vito Russo, an author, film critic, and one of the founding members of the AIDS activist group ACT UP, wrote about the early years of AIDS in his diary. He described the lack of media coverage, and the fears and outrage of his friends as they saw their loved ones fall ill.

ACT UP Women's Committee

ACT UP flyer for CDC protest CDC action flyer, Women's Committee, ACT UP, January 8-9, 1990
Courtesy Lesbian Herstory Archives
When Cosmopolitan magazine published "Reassuring News about AIDS," an article by Dr. Robert Gould claiming that heterosexual women did not need to worry about contracting HIV, a group of women within ACT UP organized a protest. They gathered outside the New York offices of the magazine's publisher and met with the author to discuss the evidence for heterosexual transmission of the virus.






ACT UP Gran Fury Poster AIDS activism poster by Gran Fury, 1991
Courtesy Gran Fury Collection. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Although women are at risk of contracting HIV through heterosexual sex, in the early years of the epidemic the definition of AIDS proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was based on the symptoms most frequently experienced by men. As a result of protests by ACT UP, the CDC expanded its definition to include the most common symptoms among women with the disease.

ACT UP and the FDA

Members of ACT UP gather in front of FDA security members ACT UP demonstration at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), October 11, 1988
Courtesy Food and Drug Administration History Office
On October 11, 1988 ACT UP closed down the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) outside Washington, DC, to protest the slow process of drug approval. They argued that because there were few treatments for AIDS, new drugs should be reviewed as quickly as possible. The FDA streamlined the review process for key AIDS medications including AZT, and within a few years introduced rules to fast-track approval for drugs that could save lives.
ACT UP Gran Fury Poster Gran Fury poster criticizing government inaction, 1988
Courtesy Gran Fury Collection. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
ACT UP lab coat worn at protest Lab coat worn by ACT UP member Mark Carson at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), October 11, 1988
Courtesy ACT UP New York Records. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
ACT UP lab coat worn at protest One of the reasons for the success of ACT UP protests was the media attention their activities received. The use of costumes, placards, and dramatic slogans clearly and memorably conveyed their message and focused the public's attention on specific issues, like drug development and approval, which shaped the AIDS crisis.