The Silence = Death logo that became synonymous with ACT UP was actually created by six gay activists before the organization was founded. But they later joined! ACT UP's first demonstration on March 24th, 1987 received much media attention in New York City, but only led to 17 arrests. Read My Lips was a kissing demonstration that ACT UP employed, non-violently bringing about change toward sexual discrimination.

ACT UP: Silence = Death

BY Brigitte Nicole | Wed. December 31, 1969 | 7:00 PM | Culture Club
In the 1980s, frustration and anger filled the streets of New York City as the AIDS epidemic, unchecked and unacknowledged by the government, ravaged the country. In response to the administration's inaction and neglect, author and activist Larry Kramer formed the first and most influential AIDS awareness organization, ACT UP, in 1987 to address the dire problems of the crisis. By educating the public, facilitating a dialogue between pharmaceutical companies and citizens, intelligently employing civil disobedience, and resiliently fighting against sexual discrimination, ACT UP has been and remains an invaluable presence in the fight for equal rights and against HIV/AIDS.

In tribute to the organization and in recognition of its instrumental influence, I've created a timeline to showcase those first heroic individuals who put up a fight when the government turned its back.

1987 – in March, a group of individuals outraged by the government’s mismanagement of the AIDS crisis meet at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center to discuss plans of action. Larry Kramer founds ACT UP.  The organization's first demonstration takes place March 24th on Wall Street, targeting pharmaceutical companies that are profiting from the sales of HIV/AIDS drug, AZT, but without making it easily accessible to people infected with the disease. After this demonstration, the FDA shortens the drug approval process by two years.
1988 --- In January, ACT UP protests an article written in Cosmopolitan that erroneously states that women cannot contract the AIDS virus through heterosexual sex. Women of ACT UP informally meet with the misinformed writer and demand both a retraction and an apology. After the author refuses both requests, 500 people protest the magazine outside its headquarters, the filming of which is later included in the documentary, Doctors, Liars, and Women.
         -- GRAN FURY, an "invisible" artist/activist collective forms and quickly becomes the artistic complement to ACT UP. Taking on the unofficial role of ACT UP’s propaganda ministry, GRAN FURY prolifically produces loud billboards and bus posters addressing the AIDS crisis.  The collective even reaches the windows of the New Museum. Provoking a dialogue, their strong messages prove direct, powerful, and persuasive.

         -- This same year, Douglas Crimp, an active ACT UP member, publishes his influential writings on the crisis in AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism.

1989 -- For ACT UP’s second anniversary, 3,000 people meet at New York City Hall to protest the inadequacy of all AIDS policy under Mayor Edward Koch. This AIDS demonstration is the largest of its kind to date. About 200 demonstrators are arrested.
1990 – ACT UP organizes a movement against the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 1,000 protesters unite to demand more AIDS treatment and better representation of women and people of color in clinical trials.

         -- This same year, active ACT UP member and film historian, Vito Russo, dies from AIDS-related complications.
1991 -- ACT UP's Youth Education Life Line (YELL) committee helps sway the New York City Board of Education to approve a plan for condom distribution in public high schools.  ACT UP also demands medical treatment for prisoners with AIDS, declaring that “living with AIDS in prison is cruel and unusual punishment."

Be sure to look out for and cheer on the ACT UP float this Sunday at the Pride Parade--because the fight against AIDS isn't over!