August 11, 1981
Larry Kramer Hosts First Meeting to Discuss Pandemic

Acclaimed writer and film producer Larry Kramer holds a meeting of over 80 gay men in his large New York City apartment at 2 Fifth Avenue.

Learn More.

Invited speaker Dr. Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist alarmed about the spread of Kaposi’s sarcoma among the gay male population of New York, explained that they were witnessing the arrival of a new disease with a mysterious predilection for gay men.

When Dr. Friedman-Kien suggested that the disease may be linked to “something about gay sexual activity,” attendees became agitated at the thought that their newfound sexual freedom could have deadly implications, according to David France’s account of the AIDS crisis, How to Survive a Plague.

Still, when Dr. Friedman-Kien asked attendees to contribute money to support his research, attendees ponied up a total of $6,635.  This would be the only money, public or private, that would be raised to fight the AIDS epidemic in 1981.

This and other early efforts to raise funds and awareness around the disease that would later be called HIV and AIDS led directly to the creation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) Committee.  The committee would transition into a corporation in the summer of 1982, and become New York’s primary service organization for HIV/AIDS.

“The August 11, 1981 fundraiser at Kramer’s apartment and the efforts of a handful of volunteers on Labor Day weekend 1981 were intended to raise money, but they succeeded mainly in raising discussion about Kaposi’s sarcoma,” according to David Román in his book Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS.

Kramer himself would emerge as an early leader of the effort to raise awareness about the new disease and solicit donations for the new Gay Men’s Health Crisis.  And right away, he would be challenged by members of the gay community who accused him of causing unnecessary panic and villifying gay sex.

Kramer’s crusade would continue for decades.

* * * * *

How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France (2017, Vintage Press)

Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS by David Román (1998, Indiana University Press)

December 10, 1981
Bobbi Campbell Starts Publishing ‘Gay Cancer Journal’

Bobbi Campbell, a San Francisco nurse, becomes the first Kaposi’s sarcoma patient to go public — and in print — with his diagnosis.

Learn More.

Campbell began publishing a series of articles about his KS diagnosis for the San Francisco Sentinel, the first titled “I Will Survive: Nurse’s Own ‘Gay Cancer’ Story.”

Calling himself the “KS Poster Boy,” Campbell continued to share his experiences in the column “Gay Cancer Journal.”  His AIDS activism would go on to include being pictured in San Francisco’s first AIDS poster, organizing the first candlelight vigil to raise AIDS awareness, and eventually becoming one of the first openly gay men to appear on the cover of a major news magazine when he posed for Newsweek with his lover Bobby Hilliard.

Starting with a case of shingles in February 1981, Campbell suffered from a series of unusual illnesses, including Leukopenia later that summer.  After a hike with his boyfriend in September 1981, he noticed KS lesions on his feet.  He was formally diagnosed as having KS by dermatologist Marcus Conant, M.D., in October 1981.  This would be Dr. Conant’s first diagnosis of a patient with what would become known as AIDS.

After joining the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in early 1982, Campbell cowrote the first San Francisco safer sex manual, Play Fair!, using his nun persona, Sister Florence Nightmare RN.  The booklet was among the very first to use plain sex-positive language and humor to give practical advice.

In February 1982, Campbell and Dan Turner, who had just himself been diagnosed with KS, attended what would be the founding meeting of the KS/AIDS Foundation (which later became the San Francisco AIDS Foundation).  Campbell also became involved with the Shanti Project, which moved from its original focus of supporting people with terminal cancer, to providing emotional support to people diagnosed with AIDS.

Campbell also helped start the People with AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement (PWA), arguing that people with AIDS should expect to participate actively in the response to the AIDS crisis. The PWA Movement rejected the term “AIDS victim.”

With others, Campbell drafted the Denver Principles, the defining manifesto of the PWA Movement.  Inspired by the Lavender Menace radical feminists storming the National Organization for Women convention stage in 1970, Campbell and other activists decided to do something similar at the closing session of the Second National AIDS Forum. As each of the 11 men read out one of the 11 statements of Denver Principles, they did so with a banner stating “Fighting for Our Lives.”  These words became the slogan of the PWA Movement.

Campbell gave one of his last speeches at the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights, occuring while the 1984 Democratic National Convention was in San Francisco.  Campbell told the crowd that he had hugged his boyfriend on the cover of Newsweek, and then kissed Hilliard on stage “to show Middle America that gay love is beautiful.”

In a powerful speech, Campbell denounced the Christian right for their practice of using scripture to justify their homophobia, and he slammed the Reagan administration for its lack of action.  He held 15 seconds of silence for “the 2,000 who had died of AIDS at that point and for those who will die before this is over.”

Two weeks later, Campbell appeared on CBS Evening News in a live interview with Dan Rather.  While the rumors and fear of AIDS had reached the general public, the facts had not, so Campbell was placed in a glass booth, and technicians refused to come near him to wire up his microphone for the interview.

Soon after his TV appearance, he was admitted to a hospital and placed on life support.  With Hillard and his parents by his side, Campbell died on August 15, 1984, exactly a month after his DNC speech.  He was 32 years old.

* * * * *

San Francisco Sentinel, “I Will Survive!” by Bobbi Campbell, R.N.

Newsweek magazine, cover photo of Bobbi Campbell and Bobby Hilliard, August 8, 1983

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc., “Sistory”

Bobbi Campbell Speech, 1984 National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights (YouTube)

CBS News Dan Rather Interview with Bobbi Campbell, June 12, 1982 (YouTube)

January 4, 1982
Gay Men’s Health Crisis Opens in NYC

Gay Men’s Health Crisis becomes the first community-based AIDS service provider in the U.S.

Learn More.

The informal meeting that Larry Kramer held in his NYC apartment in 1981 to address the “gay cancer” was credited with being the genesis of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).

Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White officially established GMHC in early 1982.  It began with creating simple lines of communication for the community and medical personnel:  an AIDS hotline, a newsletter, a space to meet, and the landmark Buddy program to assist PWAs (People with AIDS) with their day-to-day needs.

Later in the same year, GMHC would open its first office on West 22nd Street in Manhattan.

GMHC would become New York’s leading AIDS service organization, serving approximately 10,000 people each year living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the five boroughs of New York City.  GMHC would continuously provide HIV and STI testing, food and nutrition programs, housing support, workforce development, legal assistance, advocacy for benefits and health insurance, mental health and emotional support, substance use counseling, and more.

Today, over 60% of GMHC clients are people of color, nearly 75% identify as LGBTQ+, and over 80% are people living at or below the Federal Poverty Line.

* * * * *

Gay Men’s Health Crisis, “History” and “At A Glance”

April 8, 1982
GMHC Holds First Major AIDS Fundraiser, Others Follow

A fundraising event hosted by the newly formed organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis draws over 2,000 attendees to the Paradise Garage in New York City and raises more than $30,000.

Learn More.

“Showers: A Benefit to Aid Gay Men with Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Other Gay Related Immunodeficiencies” was considered a major success as both a fundraiser for people in need and as a way to address the gay community about the health crisis.

The mega-dance party featured live performances by Evelyn “Champagne” King, the Ritchie Family, and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.  It also included a promise from GMHC President Paul Popham that his fledgling organization could be relied upon to be a clearinghouse for the latest information on the “medical emergency” facing the community.

During his address to attendees, Popham announced that more than 150 people had already died of Kaposi’s sarcoma and other immunodeficiency diseases, and “about that many more are very ill and may leave us, too.”

At the time, federal funding was not yet available for reserach or disseminating information about the new fatal illnesses slowly spreading among members of the gay community.  The GMHC was among the first organizations to begin soliciting donations from its own community to put into place research funding streams, compassionate care programs, and awareness/information campaigns.

Not only did the event provide GMHC with seed money for its service programs, it also attracted “a flood of new volunteers,” according to David France in his book How to Survive a Plague.

“The multiple successes of the fundraiser dramatically shifted the AIDS consciousness of gay New Yorkers,” wrote David Román in his book Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS.  “It boosted the morale of a city under siege, and put into motion a series of smaller, more localized fundraisers throughout Manhattan.”

Among those fundraising events in 1982 were Maneuvers’ “tea dance benefit” for the St. Mark’s Clinic, a benefit performance by the cast of the Broadway show Dreamgirls, and various events at Don’t Tell Mama.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco community was busy planning its own large-scale fundraiser.  On June 13, 1982, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Hollywood star Shirley MacLaine hosted the Dog Show and Parade event, which benefitted the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Clinic at the University of San Francisco Medical Center.

In Chicago, performance benefits at venues like the Riverside Club and Park West helped to provide the funding needed to launch the Action AIDS program at the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic.

While the federal government and the White House seemed to be stymied by this new disease spreading in the country’s largest cities, local LGBTQ communities were spinging into action.  The age of the big-city AIDS benefit had begun.

* * * * * *

How to Survive a Plague by David France (Penguin Random House, 2017)

Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS by David Roman (Indiana University Presss, 1998)

LA Activist Ivy Bottini Creates Informational Network

Lesbian feminist Ivy Bottini, upset by the AIDS-related death of her friend Ken Schnorr, starts asking questions of the medical community and founds the AIDS Informational Network in Los Angeles.

Learn More.

Bottini called the CDC to ask about the black and blue bruises that covered Schnorr’s body.  The CDC refered Bottini to Dr. Michael Gottlieb at the University of California Los Angeles, who co-authored the CDC’s first report on HIV/AIDS.

Bottini and Dr. Gottlieb became friends and met every Friday at Crest Coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake to discuss AIDS.  Fueled with trustworthy information, Bottini formed what would become to be known as the AIDS Informational Network, an informal group of leaders who discussed the crisis.

She organized a community town hall at Fiesta Hall in West Hollywood with Dr. Joel Weisman, Schnorr’s physician.  More than 300 gay men attended (Bottini and her friend Dottie Wine are the only women in the packed hall), and for years afterward, Bottini heard from men who claim that this event saved their life.

* * * * * *

The Liberation of Ivy Bottini by Judith V. Branzburg (Bink Books, 2018)

Watermark“Tribute to ‘Give ’em Hell’ Lesbian Feminist Pioneer Ivy Bottini” by Karen Ocamb, March 3, 2021

May 9, 1982
Genesis for San Francisco AIDS Foundation is Launched

Bay Area dermatologist Dr. Marcus Conant and gay activist Cleve Jones found the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, which later becomes the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Learn More.

The foundation’s goal was to provide information on Kaposi’s Sarcoma to local gay men.  Frank Jacobson, Richard Keller, Bob Ross, and Dr. Paul Volberding were also organization founders.

In the first year, the organization existed in a very small office on Castro and 18th Street, seeing a limited number of clients and operating a single-telephone information and referral Hhotline. The organization was operated entirely by volunteers.

It wasn’t long before the organization gained recognition locally and nationally as a trusted source of information.  As the epidemic grew, the organization expanded with funding from local and state sources and grassroots community fundraising. They were able to hire paid staff.

In 1983, the organization split into national and local chapters, and in 1984 the local chapter renamed itself the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and officially separated its affiliation from the National Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research & Education Foundation.

Still active today, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation continues to promote health, wellness, and social justice for communities most impacted by HIV, through sexual health and substance use services, advocacy, and community partnerships.  SFAF currently serves more than 25,000 a year.

* * * * * *

San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “Our 40 Years of History: From 1982 to 2022”

Activists Launch Hotline at Center in Los Angeles

After activists Nancy Cole Sawaya, Max Drew, Matt Redman, and Ervin Munro attend a community meeting featuring a speaker from the Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, they create a hotline to serve the panicked LA community.

Learn More.

The emergency meeting with the representative from San Francisco was held at the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now called the Los Angeles LGBT Center).  The four activists decided to set up the telephone hotline in the only space available to them: a closet at the Center.

Sawaya, Drew, Redman and Munro, along with eight additional volunteers, would undergo training by Dr. Joel Weisman and then take turns answering the telephone and reading information from a carefully prepared fact sheet.  Word quickly got out about the hotline, which would start to receive more than 20 calls a day.

In December 1982, the Los Angeles chapter of the Kaposi Sarcoma Foundation would host “Christmas Present,” a $25 event at a private home in Bel-Air to raise money for the hotline.  Music is provided by Mother Lode DJ Stewart Barkal, and refreshments are donated by local restaurants, coordinated by Truffles owner Steve Wilson.

Sawaya, Drew, Redman and Munro would go on to found AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), which would become the oldest and largest organization in Southern California providing educational and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

* * * * *

AIDS Project Los Angeles, “History”

January 7, 1983
APLA Elects Founding Board of Directors

AIDS Project Los Angeles elects its first board of directors, which include Dr. Michael Gottlieb and political organizer Peter Scott.  Dr. Joel Weisman and attorney Diane Abbitt serve as the organization’s first co-chairs.

Learn More.

APLA moves into a converted motel built in 1955, located at 937 Cole Street in Hollywood.

* * * * *

AIDS Project Los Angeles, “History”

February 11, 1983
MECLA Briefing on AIDS Delivers Troubling News

An AIDS briefing hosted by the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA) draws hundreds of attendees eager for more information on the epidemic.

Learn More.

Speakers include Rep. Henry Waxman, who tells attendees, “I believe that much of the lack of federal research on AIDS has arisen from discrimination intent and self-righteous neglect.”

Held at the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, the MECLA breakfast event also features presentations by Dr. Joel Weisman (APLA Co-Chair), Dr. Michael Roth of UCLA’s Department of Allergy and Immunology, Assemblymember Burt Margolin, and Mark Feldman, founder of the “Phooey on AIDS” emergency healthcare fund, according to a report from Pat Rocco.

* * * * * *

1112 a
March 14, 1983
Larry Kramer Publishes ‘1,112 and Counting’

Readers of the New York Native take notice of “1,112 and Counting,” AIDS activist Larry Kramer’s urgent plea for the NY Gay Community to get angry at the lack of government support and scientific advances in the fight against AIDS.

Learn More.

Published in the New York Native, Kramer provides a blistering assessment of the impact of AIDS on the gay community, the quickly rising numbers of sick and dying gay men and the slow pace of scientific progress in finding a cause for AIDS.

Kramer’s historic essay opens with:
“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

This essay was just the beginning for Kramer, in what would become a lifetime of activism and advocacy.  He would go on to write The Normal Heart, the first serious artistic examination of the AIDS crisis, and he would found ACT UP, a protest organization widely credited with having changed public health policy and the public’s awareness of HIV and AIDS.

“There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country. And he helped change it for the better. In American medicine there are two eras. Before Larry and after Larry,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

* * * * * *

New Yorker Magazine, “Larry Kramer, Public Nuisance,” by Michael Specter, May 5, 2002

The Bilerico Project on LGBTQ Nation, “Larry Kramer’s Historic Essay: AIDS At 30,” June 14, 2011

April 30, 1983
Circus Event Collects $250,000 for AIDS Organization

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus holds a special one-night event to benefit the Gay Men’s Health  Crisis, raising $250,000.

Learn More.

Considered a political milestone for the HIV/AIDS community, the event drew about 18,000 attendees and was remarkable for the galvanizing effect it had on the  LGBTQ and expanding AIDS communities.

Held at Madison Square Garden, the show featured Leonard Bernstein conducting the circus orchestra and opera diva Shirley Verrett singing The Star Spangled Banner.

“Leonard Bernstein walking across the length of the Madison Square Garden in his white dinner jacket to conduct the circus orchestra in the national anthem, while 18,000 gay men and their friends and families cheered, was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced,” recalled activist and organizer Larry Kramer in his 1989 book Reports from the Holocaust.

Proceeds raised by the event would go a long way to support programs at the Gay Men’s Health  Crisis, which had already distributed 250,000 copies of its safe sex brochure and coordinated hundreds of volunteers providing household assistance and compassionate care to men stricken with AIDS.

But the event was much more than a money generator, according to David Roman in his book Acts of Intervention.

“Gathering over 17.000 supporters of AIDS consciousness and intervention in 1983, and at the circus no less, was and could only be a political landmark,” writes Roman.

About a month after attending the circus event, Andrew Holleran would write of his experience in an essay for The New York Native:

“We sang the words of Francis Scott Key amidst the spotlights, in the great cavernous space filled with hearts dedicated to the same goal, and not a few moist eyes — I felt two identities which are most often separated in time and place, merge: homosexual and American.”

* * * * * *

Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist by Larry Kramer (St. Martin’s Press, 1989)

Acts of Intervention by David Roman (Indiana University Press, 1998)

1983 May 2 vigil in New York
May 2, 1983
Candlelight Vigils Held in San Francisco & NYC

The Kaposi’s Sarcoma Foundation organizes the first AIDS Candlelight Vigils in New York and San Francisco, creating the first public demonstration with people living with AIDS and bringing global awareness to the epidemic.

Learn More.

Photos of the event are circulated around the world, revealing for many the growing health crisis.  It is the first time that people with AIDS come together in a public demonstration.

* * * * * *

San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “SFAF History in Pictures”

San Francisco Examiner, “Candlelight Memorial” by Carol Ness, May 13, 1998

May 3, 1983
5,000 Attend Candlelight March at Federal Building in Westwood

APLA sponsors a Candlelight March in Westwood attended by 5,000 people.  Activists from the Los Angeles area do their part to bring awareness about AIDS to the community and the nation.

Learn More.

Tens of thousands of people also turn out in marches in New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston.  In San Francisco, 10,000 activists walk for hours from the Castro to City Hall behind a banner reading “Fighting For Our Lives.”

Organizers Bobbi Campbell, Bobby Reynolds, Dan Turner and Mark Feldman succeed in their goal of putting “a face on the disease.”

* * * * * *

APLA Health, “35 Years: A Collective Voice of Advocacy”

The Body, “AIDS Project Los Angeles | Public Policy and Communication”

Daniel P. Warner Launches LA Shanti, Promotes Death with Dignity

Daniel P. Warner co-founds the non-profit LA Shanti Foundation, the first organization in Southern California to provide direct services for people with AIDS that also promotes death with dignity.

Learn More.

Located on La Brea Avenue, L.A. Shanti became a leader in quality volunteer-driven programs that provided information and emotional support using the Shanti model of compassionate presence.

Warner served as the organization’s first Executive Director.

“I have committed myself to helping the fight against the misconceptions and prejudices, which can overwhelm a person with this infection, by working as a health educator for the city of West Hollywood,” Warner would write to the Los Angeles Times in 1988.

Warner, who was HIV-positive, would receive Shanti’s first Commitment to Service Award in 1991. The same year, he would receive Los Angeles County’s Community Service Award and a certificate of recognition from the state Senate.* * * * * *

Los Angeles Times“Daniel P. Warner; AIDS Activist, Shanti Foundation Co-Founder,” June 15, 1993

May 27, 1983
3,000 Marchers in LA Demand AIDS Research

A Candlelight March in Los Angeles brings 3,000 activists into the streets, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Learn More.

The event’s organizer and emcee, Matt Redman of AIDS Project Los Angeles, told the crowd, “Let’s put the screws to the Reagan administration.”

Redman blasted Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Edward Brandt for asserting that AIDS funding was adequate. “That’s bullshit!” he declared.

As reported cases in Los Angeles County jump from 19 in April 1982 to 81 in May 1983, activists mobilize to demand more AIDS research.

* * * * * * *

Tell Me David“Candles in the Wind” by David Hunt, February 6, 2016

How to Have Sex in an Epidemic
‘How to Have Sex in an Epidemic’ Hits the Streets

Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen publish How to Have Sex in an Empidemic: One Approach.

Learn More.

Written by Berkowitz and Callen, both New Yorkers living with AIDS, the pamphlet was groundbreaking by being among the first to promote safer sex practices, offering pointed advice on condom use and promoting self-empowerment for those diagnosed with AIDS.

As one of the first publications to recommend the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs in men having sex with men, the pamphlet is considered one of the foundational publications in the advent of modern safe sex.

Sex in an Epidemic was widely read by gay men living in New York City.  In the melee of all the confusion and desperation about AIDS, a comprehensive guide appeared to help gay men navigate the risk of developing the seemingly fatal syndrome while also enjoying a sex life.

In 2017 — 34 years later — David France would write about Berkowitz and Callen’s efforts to educate their community about AIDS in his book How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS.

According to France’s account, Sex in an Epidemic originally started as an article proposed by Berkowitz with medical guidance from his openly gay doctor, Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., that proposed a new “sexual ethic” for men who had sex with men.

Berkowitz couldn’t find a publication willing to publish the article, largely due to his reputation of being “sex-negative,” which he and Callen unfairly acquired after they wrote an article about “the consequences of sexual overconsumption” for the gay publication the New York Native.

“Deep down, we know who we are and why we are sick,” they wrote for the November 8, 1982 edition of the Native.  After publication, the article drew a torrent of angry criticism from readers of the Native, as well as from gay periodicals across North America, including the Toronto newspaper Body Politic, which accused Berkowitz and Callen of creating unnecessary panic in the community.

Even so, Berkowitz, who was open about his history as a sex worker, was more determined than ever to find ways to save lives.  In the new writing project, he decided to take a different approach than the one he and Callen put forth in their Native article.

This time, Berkowitz was focused on a sex-positive message.  He wanted to share information about the kinds of intimacy gay men could engage in safely, rather than what gay men shouldn’t do.  When gay publications rejected the article Berkowitz proposed, Dr. Sonnabend recommended that they format the information as a pamphlet “in the model of left-wing and feminist political tracts,” according to France.

At that point, Callen got involved in the project.  He and Berkowtiz would meet to work on Sex in an Epidemic at Dr. Sonnabend’s office or at Callen’s loft in Tribeca.  Callen’s partner, Richard Dworkin, also assisted in assembling the editorial content.  Their process involved revisiting the painful mistakes of their approach to their Native article and applying lessons learned from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and other guides to influencing people.

“Their self-assigned mission was outsized, almost radical,” wrote France.  “In order for safe sex to staunch an epidemic, it had to be embraced by the entire community of gay men — a fundamental and universal change in behavior … This was how they invented what they called ‘safe sex.'”

Callen and Berkowitz took care to ensure all their advice was sex-positive and affirming.  They used frank and playful language in their risk assessment of various acts of sexual intimacy.  And, in a groundbreaking move, they promoted the use of condoms — something that very few gay men used at the time — as a way to avoid the AIDS virus as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.  They even included a passage on love.

“Men loving men was the basis of gay male liberation,” they wrote, “but we have now created ‘cultural institutions’ in which love and even affection can be totally avoided.”

They went on to advise that if readers love the subjects of their sexual intimacy — even those of the briefest of liaisons — then they will not want to make them sick.

The initial 5,000-copy printing of the 46-page Sex in an Epidemic cost about $1,000, donated by Callen and other patients of Dr. Sonnabend.  Berkowitz, Callen and Sonnabend distributed copies throughout New York City, primarily in shops and bars frequented by gay men.

Within weeks, the post-office box they included in the pamphlet began to receive letters.  They expected a response similar to the Native article, hate mail with accusations branding them traitors to the gay liberation movement.  But they were surprised to instead receive letters of appreciation for the work they produced and with requests to send copies to various locations around the U.S.  They immediately printed more copies to meet the demand that grew each week.

Then, on August 18, Jonathan Leiberson reviewed Sex in an Epidemic for the New York Review of Books.  Soon afterward, Sex in an Epidemic received attention from the Greenwich Village bookstore B. Dalton, which had created a window display around the 46-page guide.

Word was getting out.  Best of all, gay men began to use condoms.

“One night on Christopher Street, I watched a team of lesbians on a flatbed truck lovingly hurl the things into the air like rose petals over the heads of their gay brothers,” wrote France in How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS.

Condom manufacturers responded to the consumer demand in the largely gay communities by developing new products in a range of sizes, textures and colors that appealed to the market.  Transmission rates for all sexually transmitted diseases began to slow as a result.

* * * * * *

POZ magazine, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: 30th Anniversary” by Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., May 17, 2013

www.RichardBerkowitz.com, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic” (full text)

New York Review of Books, “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Jonathan Lieberson, August 18, 1983

Denver principles 2
June 12, 1983
Denver Principles Adopted after AIDS Forum Take-over

The Denver Principles are adopted after 11 gay men living with AIDS crash the stage at the National AIDS Forum and demand attention.

Learn More.

At the National AIDS Forum in Denver, about 400 gay and lesbian healthcare workers had gathered to share information about the new disease creeping across various populations in the U.S.  Also in attendance were AIDS activists from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Denver.

It was the first time activists from different U.S. cities convened in one place for the first time for the purpose of taking action.  They found they had significant differences in their approaches to the AIDS crisis.  In particular, the contingents from New York, led by Michael Callen, and San Francisco, led by Bobbi Campbell, dominated the discussion between the activists, lobbying for their different agendas.

“The West Coast cadre saw the epidemic in starkly political terms,” wrote France in his book How to Survive a Plague. “They rejected the phrases ‘AIDS patient’ and ‘AIDS victim’ as being reductive.”

In comparison, the NYC contingent was focused on the theory that widespread auto-immune disorders in the gay population had been caused by promiscuity and sexually transmitted disease.  They were more concerned about getting this message out to the community and less concerned about how people outside the community viewed them.

The one area they could all agree on, according to France, was that “it was time for the sick to assert themselves.”

Led by Campbell, the activists crafted a statement on the rights of people living with AIDS which included the demands to be at the table when policy is made, to be treated with dignity, and to be called “people with AIDS,” and not “AIDS victims.”

After making copies of their statement, they attended the closing session of the conference and eleven of them siezed the stage, unfurling a banner that read Fighting for Our Lives.

“One by one, each of the eleven men declaimed one of the eleven points until the whote list of recommendations and responsibilities had been publicly uttered for the first time,” wrote France in How to Survive a Plague.  “The last line was Callen’s to deliver.  Looking from the dias, he saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  For many of the assembled delegates, representing parts of the country not yet touched by AIDS, seeing those doomed young men in that line was devastating.”

The statement became known as The Denver Principles, and it serves as the charter for the founding of the National Association of People with AIDS.

* * * * * *

UN AIDS, “The Denver Principles” (1983)

How to Survive a Plague by David France (Penguin Random House, 2017)

June 14, 1983
First Legal Services Provider for PWAs Launched

The AIDS Legal Referral Panel of San Francisco becomes the first legal services provider in the nation dedicated to meeting the needs of people with HIV/AIDS.

Learn More.

The AIDS Legal Referral Panel was founded in 1983 by attorneys Frederick Hertz, Steven Richter, Mark Senick, and Gary James Wood.  It was originally a committee of the LGBT organization Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), but its founders recognized the group’s potential as a stand-alone non-profit organization.

Concerned that gay men in the Bay Area were near death from complications of AIDS, Hertz, Richter, Senick and Wood sought to create a legal resource that included the creation of wills and setting of durable powers of attorney.  Drafting legal documents such as these allowed individuals to die with dignity and fulfill their wishes about healthcare and disposition of assets.

The four began by publicizing a phone number where people with AIDS could call to receive legal help and by recruiting other attorneys to join them.  Soon, the legal community was leveraging its skills and resources through ALRP to respond to the AIDS crisis by providing those dying with AIDS the right to die with peace of mind.

As Hertz recounts, “[Preparing emergency wills] was wrenching.  But if people asked me how I kept my sanity, it was through using my legal skills in a way that really helped people.  I was doing something productive and meaningful and focused my grief on making a difference in people’s lives.”

Four founders and ten original Panel members sustained the organization for several years without any other infrastructure.  First led by BALIF co-chair Steve Richter with a list of telephone numbers, then by Gary James Wood when Richter developed AIDS in 1983, the organization operated solely as a volunteer-staffed organization until 1986, at which time ALRP hired attorney Clint Hockenberry.

With Hockenberry at the helm, ALRP grew from a grassroots community of concerned attorneys to an established lawyer referral service. Fundraising efforts excelled and extensive recruitment, training, and supervision of ALRP’s pro bono attorneys began. ALRP also partnered with the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, which increased the legitimacy and visibility of the organization.

Hockenberry expanded outreach to better serve people of color, children, women, injection drug users, non-native English speakers, and the homeless. During his tenure, ALRP hosted the first national AIDS Law Conference and published the first AIDS Law Manual, extended outreach to other counties, garnered Ryan White CARE Act funds, and founded ALRP’s Public Policy Project. ALRP became an independent organization in 1990, separate from BALIF, with a formal Board of Directors.

In March 1992, Clint Hockenberry passed away from AIDS, but under his leadership ALRP had grown from an organization that formed in reaction to a crisis to an agency creatively and proactively responding to and anticipating the ever-changing needs of the HIV/AIDS community. As those with HIV/AIDS began living longer, Kristin Chambers, ALRP’s second Executive Director, and her successor, Irwin Keller, continued Hockenberry’s model of dynamic client services.

Under Chambers’ and Keller’s tenures, the 1990s saw an expansion of services and public policy efforts and an improved client referral system that better served the legal needs of the HIV/AIDS community. Full-time housing attorneys were hired when rising real estate prices left many in the HIV/AIDS community confronting homelessness.

In addition, “Working in the Cycle of HIV,” an educational manual published in conjunction with AIDS Benefits Counselors (now Positive Resource Center) and the Employment Law Center, was created to respond to the large numbers of people with HIV/AIDS who wanted to return to the workplace after experiencing positive outcomes from new treatments. On the public policy front, ALRP advocated for national health care reform, continued and improved HIV privacy and confidentiality protections, and Social Security reform to provide expanded, fair, and adequate access to benefits.

By 2000, when Bill Hirsh became ALRP’s fourth Executive Director, ALRP had grown from solely serving patients at San Francisco General Hospital to serving clients in seven Bay Area counties. From preparing emergency wills and powers of attorney, ALRP now provided legal assistance to clients in all areas of civil law. Instead of a simple lawyer referral service, ALRP was now an organization that provided both direct legal representation and personalized attorney/client referrals.

ALRP is the first organized legal outreach effort for those with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and many original Panelists from 1983 remain active in the organization to this day. Initially formed to draft emergency wills and other necessary documents for terminally ill clients, ALRP has shifted its focus to issues illustrative of the fact that those with HIV/AIDS are living longer lives than ever before and facing more complex legal needs.

What started in 1983 as a small circle of attorney friends has grown to a full-time staff of fifteen and a Panel of over 700 volunteer attorneys donating over $1 million each year in pro bono legal services. Since its inception, ALRP has handled over 76,000 legal matters for people living with HIV/AIDS.

* * * * * *

AIDS Legal Referral Panel, “ALRP Milestones” and “History”

University of California Libraries, “AIDS Legal Referral Panel Records”

Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom

June 23, 1983
Stars Align for KS Benefit in San Francisco

Movie actresses Debbie Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine head the lineup for the annual benefit for the Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, founded by Cleve Jones, Marcus Conant, Frank Jacobson, and Richard Keller.

Learn More.

“An evening with Debbie Reynolds and Friends” was the largest and most successful of the early San Francisco fundraisers, according to David Roman, author of Acts of Intervention.  The event raised $43,000 for the newly formed Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation.

In his book And The Band Played On about the early years of the AIDS crisis, Randy Shilts would write:

“The fundraiser for the National KS/AIDS foundation had all the raciness of a true San Francisco event. When host Debbie Reynolds introduced the surprise guest — actress Shirley MacLaine — with the comment that MacLaine had great legs, MacLaine responded by pulling down the top of her long strapless gown, demonstrating that she had other equipment to match. The crowd cheered enthusiastically: ‘We love you, Shirley!’  Not to be outdone, Reynolds lifted the rear of her slitted gown to reveal her brief black underwear.”

Reynolds would go on to appear in another benefit for the organization at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Reynolds was known to always be available, without perks, to lend her name and talent to fighting the AIDS epidemic,” writes journalist Karen Ocamb.  “And her fondness for the gays never disappeared either, landing the role as Kevin Kline’s mother in the satirical 1997 film In & Out, and playing her Emmy-nominated role as Deborah Messing’s eccentric mother in NBC’s Will & Grace.”

Reynolds’ last role would be Liberace’s mother in the 2013 HBO movie Behind the Candelabra.

In 1984, Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation would be renam, ed the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

* * * * * *

Acts of Intervention by David Roman (Indiana University Press, 1998)

And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (MacMillan, 1987)

The Pride LA, “Debbie Reynolds, Early Hollywood AIDS Activist” by Karen Ocamb, December 29, 2016

Mark Feldman of ‘Phooey on AIDS Fund’ Dies

Mark Feldman, a board member of the synagogue Congregation Sha’ar Zahav who founded the “Phooey on AIDS” emergency fund, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 31.

Learn More.

An emerging leader in the Bay Area Jewish and gay communities, Feldman was director of admissions at New College and co-director of publicity for Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a largely gay and lesbian San Francisco synagogue.

After he was diagnosed with AIDS and learned of others in the community who were also ill, Feldman asked the congregation’s Bikkur Cholim (outreach to the ill) Committee to start a “Phooey on AIDS” fund to support the financial needs of members and the community. This fund made annual gifts to the organizations providing direct care including Shanti, Project Open Hand, the San Francisco General Hospital Ward 86, and the Food Bank of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, according to Paul Cohen in My Jewish Learning.

After gay men were prohibited from donating blood, the women of Sha’ar Zahav organized a blood drive.  Feldman gave every woman who donated blood a rose in appreciation, according to Rabbi Leslie Bergson.

Feldman was the first Sha’ar Zahav congregant to die of AIDS.

“Sadly, he was not the last,” writes Dan Pine in The Jewish News of Northern California.  “The names of nearly 80 other congregants felled by the virus adorn the synagogue’s memorial wall today.”

During the first years of the AIDS epidemic, Rabbi Allen Bennett served as Sha’ar Zahav’s spiritual leader.

“You were on call 24/7,” Rabbi Bennett told The Jewish News of Northern California  “There was no easing up. Every day there were more casualties and, as things progressed, more fatalities. Until things started to taper off, I and an awful lot of my friends were losing, on average, a friend or acquaintance once a week for probably five years.”

“I remember the devastation of hearing the names on the Kaddish list of young people,” says Rabbi Eric Weiss, a Sha’ar Zahav member and executive director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center (the Institute on Aging). “During the service, everyone stands, links arms and sings ‘Hinei Mah Tov.’ I remember the utter sadness when there were people we couldn’t put our arms around anymore.”

* * * * * *

The Jewish News of Northern California, “How AIDS Battered One SF Synagogue” by Dan Pine, June 9, 2006

My Jewish Learning“Remembering on World AIDS Day” by Paul Cohen, December 1, 2015.

Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, “40th Anniversary Shabbat,” drash by Rabbi Leslie Bergson, February 23, 2018

Employer Puts Activist Michael Callen on Medical Leave Without Pay

Employed as a legal clerk, Michael Callen found himself put on medical leave without pay when his employer, a law firm, learned he was diagnosed with AIDS.

Learn More.

Callen, who earlier that month was open about his condition in a New York magazine article, was not even allowed to return to his desk at work to collect his personal belongings.

“Too many of his colleagues had expressed fear about working with him,” wrote David France in his book How to Survive a Plague.

* * * * * *

Debbie Reynolds
August 28, 1983
Debbie Reynolds & Rip Taylor Perform at AIDS Benefit at Hollywood Bowl

Film star Debbie Reynolds appears with comic performer Rip Taylor at the first public AIDS benefit in Los Angeles, which takes place at the Hollywood Bowl.

Learn More.

The benefit for the Kaposi Sarcoma Foundation is technically the “second annual” fundraiser in Los Angeles, but it is the first to be held in a public venue.

As the featured star of the event, Reynolds is already an arden AIDS activist — long before Elizabeth Taylor becomes an advocate, journalist Karen Ocamb writes in The Pride LA.

Along with comedian Joan Rivers, singer-actress Rita Moreno, and actor Robert Guillaume, Reynolds is among the first Hollywood celebrities to appear in AIDS fundraisers at a time when HIV/AIDS is still a topic shunned by many.

* * * * * *

AIDS VIgil DC 1983
Nationwide Vigil Draws Attention to Federal Inaction

At the first National AIDS Vigil in Washington, D.C., speaker Bobbi Campbell urges President Ronald Reagan to appoint a federal task force on AIDS that includes people living with AIDS and start addressing the “national health emergency.”

Learn More.

“Let no one call us victims. We are citizens and some of us are dying,” Bobbi Campbell, 31, spoke to the crowd, who numbered about 1,500.  Campbell told The Washington Post that he has not worked since physicians told him two years ago that he had AIDS.

“We need the government to recognize our legitimate rights to exist,” Campbell told the crowd. “We are dying to be free.”

The demonstration, which was organized with support of the National AIDS Vigil Commission, ended with a candlelight rally around the reflecting pool at the foot of Capitol Hill.  Organizers said the march and vigil were “in memory of the approximately 1,000 people who have died of AIDS and the 1,500 who now have the disease.”

The commission that sponsored the event included Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein.

The next day, the Associated Press would report that memorial marches and services were held in cities across America, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Denver.

“Thousands of homosexuals, their families and friends joined candlelight parades for whom they said were cast aside by an insensitive public scared of catching the deadly disease,” the AP would report.

* * * * * *

Morris Kight
Activist Morris Kight Starts Aid for AIDS in Los Angeles

Gay activist Morris Kight and a small group of friends create Aid for AIDS  to help those devastated by AIDS who have been evicted, fired or unable to pay for food, rent or  utility bills.

Learn More.

As AFA’s Director in the early years, Knight set ambitious goals, ensuring assistance was allocated to those who needed it most.

In the 1980s, most people who developed full-blown AIDS would die within a short time, and AFA prioritized the need for people to die with dignity in their own homes.  In the coming years, AFA would go on to help more than 16,000 men, women, and children.

Gloria Lockett
CAL-PEP Founded to Provide HIV/AIDS Services for Bay Area Sex Workers

Gloria Lockett founds California Prostitutes Education Project (Cal-PEP) and begins pioneering HIV/AIDS prevention strategies and testing outreach for sex workers in the San Francisco Bay area.

Learn More.

As a Black woman who had been supporting her family as a sex worker for more than 10 years, Lockett was uniquely experienced and positioned to create an effective program that sex workers would respond to.  She was motivated by her awareness of how the public commonly scapegoated gay men for transmitting HIV and the fear that the next group to be villified would be sex workers.

Without shame or evasion, Lockett announced that her organization would focus “on prostitutes and their sexual partners including transgender individuals” — making it one of the first organizations in the country to provide HIV education, prevention and street outreach.

Housed in a tiny office in Oakland, Cal-PEP survived its first year with a $30,000 state health department grant.  With these funds, Lockett developed HIV education materials feedback on the new AIDS crisis appropriate for sex workers with input from community members.  As she conducted outreach, she collected data while protecting the privacy of her clients and used the data to receive additional funding from the city and state.

Under Lockett’s leadership, Cal-PEP would go onto provide health education, disease prevention, risk reduction, treatment, and support services to people at high risk for or currently living with HIV/AIDS — using cultural relevance, humility and grace as her guiding principles.  The organization would grow to reach clients in East and West Oakland, and other communities throughout Alamedia and San Francisco counties.

Over the years, Cal-PEP would grow to a team of 20, and the organization’s annyal budget would increase to $2.2 million.  The organization’s mission would expland as follows: “To provide tailored health education, disease prevention, risk reduction and support services to people at highest risk for HIV/AIDS in a language that they understand.”

After 35 years as CAL-PEP’s executive director, Lockett would retire in 2019.  On the occasion of her retirement, POZ magazine recognized Lockett’s achievements.

“What if Lockett had not decided in 1984 to respond as she did?” AIDS United asked POZ readers.Of the Cal-PEP recipients now, 20% are sex workers, 83% are African American, 8% are Latinx and 1% are Asian -Pacific Islander.  For 35 years, they have known that Cal-PEP speaks their languages and can help them. Some people inspire us by living for their cause.”

June 4, 1984
Early AIDS Activist Anthony J. Ferrara Dies

Anthony “Tony” Ferrara, who came forward with two other Persons With AIDS in 1983 to testify before Congress at a special hearing, dies at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda at the age of 30.

Learn More.

Ferrara twice testified before Congress to urge the federal government to increase funding for AIDS research and social services for people with AIDS.

The focus of Ferrara’s activism was often targeted at the critical need for financial support for those needing medical treatment.

“I think part of the problem is the drugs involved are so extremely expensive, the experimental drugs,” Ferrara told Congress in 1983.  “If any of them work, what my fear is is that, one, it is going to be too expensive to be widely disseminated, and two, the experimental status of the drugs may cause insurance companies to avoid paying for them.”

He returned to testify again before a Congressional hearing on AIDS in April 1984, just several weeks before he died.  And again, he stressed the need for the government to make healthcare and medication affordable.

“I implore you to remember the needs of these people beyond adequate funds for research,” Ferrara said.  “Unless you have looked into the tortured face of a person with AIDS and seen the terror, not only at the thought of dying, but at the thought of being tossed out of their home because they haven’t the money to pay their rent, or of having their phone service, electricity, or heat terminated because they cannot work … you cannot fully appreciate the tremendous need that exists with regard to this aspect of the disease.”

Ferrara was being treated by the NIH and volunteered to be the first person to undergo massive doses of Alpha Interferon as part of his treatment, according to his partner Michael Farrell.

So dedicated was he to help the NIH in its research into AIDS treatment, Ferrara also underwent a month-long experimental protocol of plasmapheresis, an exchange of blood plasma that takes five hours per session, and was one of the first recipients  of Gamma Interferon and natural Interluken II.

Ferrara’s memorial mass was held at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, where hundreds gathered to mourn and pay their respects.

Bobbi Campbell
August 15, 1984
Early AIDS/KS Activist Bobbi Campbell Dies

AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell dies of AIDS-related illness at age 32.

Learn More.

Just one month earlier, Campbell spoke at the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

Campbell told the crowd that he had hugged his boyfriend on the cover of Newsweek, “to show Middle America that gay love is beautiful.”  He held 15 seconds of silence for the 2,000 who had died of AIDS at that point “and [for] those who will die before this is over.”

He then laid-out a series of concerns for politicians to address — including increased funding for both research and support services and a warning of the potential for discrimination with the advent of a test for HTLV-3 (now known as HIV) — and appealing to all candidates in the upcoming elections to meet with people with AIDS.

Two weeks after his DNC speech, Campbell appeared on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. While the rumors and fear of AIDS had reached a mainstream audience, the facts had not, so Campbell was placed in a glass booth, with technicians refusing to come near him to wire up microphones for the interview.

At noon on August 15, 1984, exactly a month after his DNC speech and after 2 days on life support in intensive care, Bobbi Campbell died at San Francisco General Hospital.   His parents and his partner Bobby Hilliard were by his side.  Bobbi Campbell was 32 years old and had lived for over 3½ years with what was by then called AIDS.

His partner Bobby Hilliard would succumb to the deadly disease not long afterwards.

Leather PRide flag
September 23, 1984
Vulnerable Leather Community Defends SoMa Territory with Street Fair

In a San Francisco neighborhood known as “South of Market” (or SoMa), people from different parts of the community band together to create a street fair to celebrate the distinct flavor of the locale.  The event is the first of what would become to be widely known as the Folsom Street Fair.

Learn More.

“Dianne Feinstein was mayor, Mondale’s Democratic Convention had just blown through town, and the ‘gay cancer’ that had stirred genuine fears of a government conspiracy against the LGBT population had recently been dubbed AIDS and connected to sexual activity,” wrote Joe Kukura in SFist.  “It was against this backdrop that Feinstein — who had just refused to march in the Pride parade — was waging an ‘urban renewal’ campaign intended to evict a large number of SoMa’s bathhouses and gay bars and replace them with high-rises, on the claim that SoMa was a mess of urban blight.”

The street fair was created by local activists Kathleen Connell and Michael Valerio to create a counter-narrative and demonstrate that the neighborhood was thriving, noteworthy and rich in culture and counter-culture.  While the street fair did not start off as a leather community-focused event — that would come a few years later — it was from the start a celebration of all things South of Market, including the area’s leather and BDSM culture.

Event co-founder Michael Valerio was a SoMa “leatherman” whose day job was as an affordable housing coordinator at the still-existing nonprofit TODCO.  His event partner, Kathleen Connell, also worked at TODCO, but they met at a meeting of the South of Market Alliance, a community advocacy group contesting the decisions being made by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) and the city’s Board of Supervisors.  Inspired by the Castro Street Fair, Valerio and Connell worked with Harry Britt, Harvey Milk’s replacement on the Board of Supervisors, to arrange for SoMa streets to be closed from 12th Street to 7th Street between Howard and Harrison, with Folsom at the center.

On the day of the street fair, dubbed “Megahood,” some attendeees wore leather and other free-spirited outfits, while others wore more typical festival clothing.

Valerio and Connell smartly designed the event to promote the neighborhood’s small businesses and unique culture.  But they also built in another goal: helping to fight for the survival of the LGBT communities as the AIDS epidemic devasted many of its members.

“The fair was to be a healing, celebratory response,” Kathleen Connell and Paul Gabriel wrote in their article The Origin and Evolution of the Folsom Street Fair.

The leather communities in major cities were hit particularly hard by HIV, and none hit harder than San Francisco’s SoMa leather community.  In HIV in the Leather Community: Rates and Risk-Related Behaviors (2011), a study showed that Leathermen were 61% more likely to be HIV-positive than non-Leathermen, and that decreased condom use found in HIV-positive Leathermen (relative to HIV-positive non-Leathermen) was a potential factor contributing to heightened HIV rates.

Among its 37 booths were those from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Shanti Project, conducting community outreach to fairgoers.   In recent years, the number of booths at the Folsom Street Fair has grown to 200 and the number of attendees to over 400,000, making it the third largest street event in California.

Roger Lyon
November 4, 1984
Early AIDS Activist Roger Lyon Dies

Roger Gail Lyon, famous for being among the first three Persons With AIDS to testify to Congress about the epidemic, dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 36.

Learn More.

“I came here today with the hope that this administration would do everything possible, make every resource available — there is no reason this disease cannot be conquered,” said Lyon in 1983 in his testimony before Congress.

“We do not need in-fighting, this is not a political issue,” he said.  “This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue.  This is a human issue.”

Lyon travelled from the Bay Area to the nation’s capital to speak before a Congressional hearing on the government’s (largely nonexistant) response to the AIDS crisis.  Accompanying him on the panel were activists Michael Callen of New York and Anthony Ferrara of Washington.

Lyon was born in 1948 in Houston, later moved to Chicago and then San Francisco.  He was a branch manager for the San Francisco Maritime Shipping Company when he was diagnosed with AIDS in early 1983.

Little more is known about Lyon, because his health began to decline in the year following his moment in the political spotlight.

However, his contribution to the fight against AIDS survives at the National Museum of American History.  In 1990, the museum added his section of the AIDS Quilt to its collections.

Lyon’s ashes were scattered, along with the ashes of many others who died of AIDS, on the White House lawn during an ACT UP protest in 1996.

August 27, 1985
Ryan White Refused Entry to School

Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS through contaminated blood products used to treat his hemophilia, is refused entry to his middle school.

Learn More.

His family’s protracted legal battles to protect Ryan’s right to attend school call national attention to the issue of AIDS, and Ryan chooses to speak out publicly on the need for AIDS education.

Charles Lee Morris
January 6, 1986
AIDS Hospice Founder & Publisher Charles Lee Morris Dies

Charles “Chuck” Lee Morris, former owner and publisher of the San Francisco Sentinel, dies of AIDS-related illness in Denver at the age of 42.  Morris is also the co-founder of two AIDS hospice programs in California.

Learn More.

Believed to be one of the longest-living victims of AIDS, Morris had reportedly been seriously ill since April 1978, but he wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS until 1982

Morris was a confidant of then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and often was sought for political endorsements from such people as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale.

In the early 1980s, Morris helped found two hospice programs in California for those dying of AIDS.

Morris and his partner moved to Denver in the spring of 1984.  Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick, Morris’ physician and an AIDS researcher at National Jewish Hospital, said Morris survived four to five times longer than most AIDS patients. He said the average survival time of someone with full-blown AIDS is 12-18 months.

April 13, 1986
Comic Actor Stephen Stucker Dies

Stephen Stucker, the scene-stealing comic performer in the Airplane! movies, dies from AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.

Learn More.

Stucker was known for zany portrayals in comedies, notably the manic air traffic controller Johnny in the 1980s Airplane! movies.

Created by the directing-writing team of Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker, the Airplane! movies featured Stucker in a non-essential role that wasn’t crucial to the plot.  But in a movie with established stars, larger-than-life performances and endless jokes, Stucker managed to steal every scene he’s in with his comic performance.

Some may see the character as an offensive stereotype that hasn’t aged well, but Stucker’s performance can also be viewed as progressive for its time, a character that is unapologetically gay in an era where that was still taboo.  Johnny is never harassed or bullied by the over-the-top manly-men characters (played by Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen) that dominate Airplane!  Instead, Johnny turns the joke around on them and provides the perfect foil to their authority, gruffness, and self-importance.  The screenwriters developed the character specifically for Stucker, who wrote his own lines for the part and ad-libbed many of them.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Stucker moved with his family to Alameda, California, where he attended Lincoln School.  During his school days Stephen was known as both an accomplished pianist and a class clown with a dry wit.  Stucker made his film debut in 1975 as a crazed asylum escapee in Delinquent School Girls (also released as Carnal Madness).

He went on to perform in the 1977 earthquake-disaster comedy Cracking Up, alongside Fred Willard, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer.  Stucker had been a scene-stealing member of the cast of the Madison, Wisconsin Kentucky Fried Theater sketch comedy troupe founded by Abrahams and the Zucker brothers and, in 1977, he appeared in the film based on the troupe’s comedy sketches.  The Airplaine! movies soon followed.

Stucker also appeared on Marie Osmond’s TV show, Marie (1981), and on one of the last epidodes of Mork and Mindy (1982), playing a wildly enthusiastic TV producer intent on capitalizing on Mork’s fame.

Stucker was diagnosed with AIDS in July 1984, and was one of the first celebrities to go public with his diagnosis.  He appeared on talk shows like Donahue, where his unrestrained and acerbic personality sometimes bumped hard against an audience ignorant and fearful of AIDS.

Black Community
July 18, 1986
Black Community Mobilizes for Action

At the National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, minority leaders meet with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop to discuss concerns about HIV/AIDS in communities of color.

National Minority AIDS Council is founded at the conference.

Learn More.

The conference was organized by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, with co-sponsors the National Minority AIDS Council, and the National Conference of Black Mayors, and was funded by a U.S. Public Health Service grant.

Other conference topics include:

  • the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on African Americans,
  • the role of IV drug use and heterosexual transmission in the AIDS epidemic within black communities,
  • the need for culturally competent AIDS education for black communities,
  • the lack of representation in gay and black media outlets of the epidemic among African Americans, and
  • a plea to black churches to respond to the epidemic.

Frederick Garnett, a black man living with AIDS, addresses the conference, bringing public awareness to the racial disparities in how the AIDS epidemic is addressed in Washington, DC, where he lives.

A staff psychologist at St. Elizabeths Hospital and the founder of a support group for Persons Living With AIDS, Garnett says that although African Americans make up half of the people with AIDS in Washington, DC, they are largely absent from clinics and support groups.

Born in Chicago and a graduate of Northwestern University, Garnett had studied for a doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University, completing all but his dissertation before moving to Washington in 1983.

Fifteen months after the 1986 National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, Garnett would die at the Hospice of Northern Virginia on Oct. 22, 1987, of complications resulting from AIDS, at the age of 32.

Three weeks before his death, Garnett would receive an “American Who Cares” award from the National AIDS Network for his dedication to AIDS education in minority communities.  Garnett served as a board member of the National Association of People With AIDS, the National Minority AIDS Council, and the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington.


October 6, 1986
APLA Founder Nancy Cole Sawaya Dies

Nancy Cole Sawaya, co-founder of AIDS Project Los Angeles, dies in Sherman Oaks Community Hospital from AIDS-related illness at the age of 40.

Learn More.

Two months before, on August 4, Sawaya publicly disclosed that she had contracted AIDS, apparently from sexual encounters with men prior to her marriage, at least one of whom later died of AIDS complications.

“I just wish people would realize that it could happen to anybody,” Sawaya would tell the Los Angeles Times.  “I do this couple support group on Monday nights, and all these people are a group of well-educated, down-to-earth, loving, successful people.  It’s not the image like when you see on TV — they immediately shoot to Santa Monica Boulevard, somebody in leather, groping the other person, and it’s not like that.”

Sawaya began her HIV/AIDS advocacy work in 1982, when she helped to create the first hotline in Los Angeles to share verified medical information about the disease.  In December 1982, she hosted a Christmas party to raise $8,000 for a new organization — AIDS Project Los Angeles.  In early 1983, APLA would open its doors on Cole Avenue, with herself, Max Drew, Matt Redman, and Ervin Munro as Founders.

In the beginning, APLA had five clients, which would grow to 100 by the end of the year, and by the middle of 1984, APLA would serve 200 clients — and the numbers kept growing.  Sawaya was the first to manage APLA’s client services operation, often working 60 hours a week.

Sawaya would leave behind her husband, Louis; and an adopted daughter, Morgan.

Prop 64
November 4, 1986
Activists Defeat California Prop 64, Attempt to Expose PWAs

LGBT activists organize voters to overwhelmingly defeat Prop 64, a Lyndon LaRouch-backed initiative on the California ballot requiring “carriers of the AIDS virus” to be reported to government authorities.

Learn More.

Proposition 64 would have declared that HIV/AIDS and the “condition of being a carrier” of the virus  are communicable diseases and, therefore, subject to the reporting requirement to the State Department of Health Services.

Proposition 64’s supporters, led by the LaRouchian group PANIC (Prevent AIDS NOW Initiative Committee), say it would require any individual who carries the AIDS virus, even without the disease’s symptoms, to be reported to state authorities and barred from schools or jobs in restaurants.  State officials could quarantine such carriers, they contended.

LGBT activists in California argue that the initiative would lend an air of legitimacy to job discrimination against homosexuals, and public health authorities say it would deter people with HIV/AIDS from seeking treatment if there were a requirement to report them.  This, they say, would further the spread of the disease undetected.

Proposition 64 is opposed by the 34,000-member California Medical Association and most statewide elected officials, including members of both political parties.  Nearly every major newspaper has recommended a “no” vote.

Torie Osborn, the southern California coordinator of the No On 64/Stop LaRouche campaign, told the Washington Post that campaign leaders had considered focusing on LaRouche’s bizarre politics — based on conspiracy theories, economic doom, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism.

But polling data suggested that to many voters, “it really doesn’t matter who is behind the initiative,” Osborn said.

LaRouche’s PANIC team operated their campaign out of a Los Feliz headquarters, which became besieged by death threats and vandalism.

AIDS Quilt 1 - Marvin Feldman
Cleve Jones Creates First Panel for AIDS Memorial Quilt

AIDS activist Cleve Jones creates the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in honor of his friend Marvin Feldman, who died on October 10, 1986 of AIDS at the age of 33.

Learn More.

The quilt panel measured three feet wide by six feet long — the size and shape of a grave plot.

The idea of the quilt came to Jones in November 1985 while he planned the annual candlelight march honoring the 1978 assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

Jones learned that over 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost already to AIDS-related illnesses.  For the candlelight march, he asked each of his fellow marchers to write on placards the names of loved ones who had died of AIDS, and at the end of the march, Jones and others stood on ladders and taped the placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building.  The wall of names reminded Jones of a patchwork quilt, and an idea was born.

Fight Back Fight AIDS
March 12, 1987
Activist Larry Kramer Founds ACT UP

Activist Larry Kramer founds the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP ) at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City.

Learn More.

Kramer’s goal is to create a political direct-action group that will force governments, elected officials, public health agencies, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and religious institutions to act to protect those at risk of HIV, and those who are sick with AIDS.  The organization was founded in response to the U.S. government’s lack of action on the growing number of deaths from HIV infection and AIDS.

ACT UP quickly made its name with tactics that were unapologetically confrontational, says David France, the author of a history of AIDS activism called How to Survive a Plague, as well as a 2012 documentary by the same name.

Time magazine calls ACT UP “the most effective health activist [group] in history ” for “pressuring drug companies, government agencies and other powers that stood in their way to find better treatments for people with AIDS — and, in the process, improving the way drugs are tested and approved in the U.S.”

AIDS Protestors Arrested 03 1987
March 24, 1987
ACT UP Marches on Wall Street

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) stages its first protest on Wall Street, bringing widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic.

Learn More.

ACT UP’s first-ever demonstration takes place at the busy intersection of Wall Street and Broadway, near Trinity Church, a location selected with the goal of disrupting the morning rush hour.

Formed in New York City in 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (more commonly known as ACT UP) brought widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic and helped make significant advances in AIDS research.

ACT UP’s first demonstration in 1987 targeted pharmaceutical companies that were profiteering from the epidemic (especially Burroughs Wellcome, manufacturer of AZT).  ACT UP also accused the industry of not doing research to find a cure or better treatments for AIDS.

Some 250 protestors, many of whom laid down in the street and/or held signs, call for corporate and government action to end the AIDS crisis.  The protest targets pharmaceutical companies that are profiteering from the epidemic, specifically Burroughs Wellcome, the company manufacturing the high-priced AZT.

Demonstrators chant “We are angry! W want action!” and “Release those drug!”  Seventeen people are arrested.

A flyer announcing the protest lists several immediate demands, including:

  • the release of life-saving drugs by the FDA,
  • the availability of affordable drugs,
  • a program to educate the public to combat the spread of AIDS, and
  • enacting policies to end AIDS-related discrimination in the workplace, housing, insurance, and medical treatment.

Soon after the demonstration, the FDA would announce it would shorten its drug approval process by two years, a process that normally took up to nine years.

ACT UP would stage three more demonstrations on Wall Street, the world’s leading financial center and home to the New York Stock Exchange, in the 1980s and 1990s.

GMHC Founders
May 7, 1987
GMHC President Paul Popham Dies

Paul Popham, founder and first president of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, dies at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of AIDS-related illness at the age of 45.

Learn More.

Popham was a Bronze Star Medal-winning Vietnam veteran who had a successful career as a Wall Street banker.  He was politically inactive until 1981, when he first read about the disease that later became known as AIDS.

In January 1982, Popham, along with Larry Kramer, Lawrence Mass, Nathan Fain, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White, founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Popham became the organization’s first president.

At the time of its founding, GMHC was the largest volunteer AIDS organization in the world.

Popham’s leadership style was infused with charm and diplomacy, which some found to be an ideal approach in the new fight against AIDS.  However, others thought Popham should have lead the organization with more urgency and ferocity.  The latter camp included Larry Kramer, who thought Popham’s approach was overly accommodating and ineffective.

Tensions between Kramer and Popham led to Kramer leaving GMHC in 1983 and, later, their contentious relationship would be portrayed in Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, one of the first plays to address the AIDS crisis.  Popham was the basis for the character of Bruce Niles.

In the program notes for one of GMHC’s earliest benefits, Paul Popham wrote, “I think the most impressive thing I’ve seen over the last year and a half is how affectionate men have grown. We are finding out who we are, what we can do under pressure.  Although we’re paying a terrible price, we’re finding in ourselves much greater strength than we dreamed we had.”

Popham also helped found the AIDS Action Council, a lobbying organization in Washington, and was chairman of the group.

Popham was diagnosed with AIDS in February 1985.  He remained active with GMHC until his illness became too severe.

In July 1986, Popham testified before Congress about allowing AIDS patients to receive drugs that were still undergoing clinical trials. This was less than a year before his death and he was clearly ill. However, he still spoke in his usual calm and resolute manner.

“As a person with AIDS, I am luckier than many in that I know resources that I can use,” he told members of Congress.  “But there are many people who have AIDS that don’t have the advantage of coming with the knowledge that I have of where to go to get the resources they need.  There is no place to go that is providing up-to-date information about the drug trials going on and how to get into these trials.”

AIDS Quilt 7 - Tom Waddell
July 11, 1987
Gay Games Founder Tom Waddell Dies

Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 49.

Learn More.

Waddell was a superior athlete, good enough to take sixth in the world in the decathlon in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, writes Mart Dobrow of ESPN.  He was a paratrooper in the Army, and a doctor with a sense of adventure — working in Africa on patients with tropical diseases and becoming the physician for the Saudi Arabian Olympic team in 1976.

“To Waddell, the symbolism of the Games spoke to his highest ideals: the five interlocking rings, the parade of nations, the torch being lit,” writes Dobrow.  “In some ways, this felt like sports at its most pure. It brought people of the world together.”

After his athletic career, Waddell would worked for years as a medical consultant for Whittaker Corp., enjoying the opulence of the Saudi royal family in Riyadh.  When he wasn’t in the Middle East, he settled in San Francisco.

There, in the hub of American gay life, Waddell embraced the bacchanal fully, its drug use and promiscuity, before finding what he hoped was true and lasting love with Charles Deaton, a 50-year-old former CIA operative.

Then Waddell had a grand vision; it started out as the “Gay Olympic Games.”  Waddell was aware that for many gay people, sports had meant a door slamming shut.  His goal was to open the door of completitive sports wide open to the LGBTQ community.

He modeled the Gay Olympic Games after what he considered to be the true principles of the Olympics: equality, fairness, human dignity.  Except that the U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t see it that way.

Just 19 days before the games were to begin, the USOC persuaded a federal court to issue an injunction prohibiting Waddell and his group, San Francisco Arts & Athletics, from using the word “Olympic” because of copyright infringement.

Waddell was incredulous and wounded to the core. He pointed out that in the past there had been no opposition to multiple other uses of the term (e.g., the Special Olympics).

With no legal recourse, Waddell and the SFAA scrambled to remove the offending word from a slew of merchandise and promotional material.  The hastily rechristened “Gay Games” played out nevertheless in the summer of 1982 with some 1,300 athletes from 12 countries participating.

By the next summer, as Gay Games 2 came to a now-besieged San Francisco, Waddell knew his days were numbered. He checked himself out of the hospital, marched in the opening ceremonies, and delivered a stirring opening address as part of the Games, which attracted some 3,500 athletes from 17 countries.

In one final feat of athletic strength, Waddell managed to win the gold medal in the javelin.  Within a year, he was gone.

Today, the Gay Games live on and are help in locations all around the world, including Amsterdam, Sydney, Paris and Hong Kong.  Since 1986, The Federation of Gay Games Scholarship Fund has awarded more than 1,000 scholarships to underfunded LGBTQ+ individuals from 70 countries around the world, where the daily struggle for equality is harsh and often dangerous.

Tom Waddell’s core principles of Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best continue to bring thousands of athletes together to compete.

Every four years in conjuntion with the Gay Games, the Tom Waddell Award is presented to a person or organization involved in the Gay Games that embodies the standards of commitment, selflessness, and love of humanity, and inspires pride through leadership and excellence in sports, culture, or volunteerism.

October 11, 1987
AIDS Memorial Quilt Displayed on National Mall in DC

The AIDS Memorial Quilt goes on display for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The display features 1,920 4×8 panels and draws half a million visitors.

AIDS Quilt - Frederick Garnett
October 22, 1987
Advocate & Educator Frederick Garnett Dies

National Minority AIDS Council co-founder and board member Frederick Garnett dies at the age of 32 of complications resulting from AIDS, at the Hospice of Northern Virginia.

Learn More.

Three weeks before his death, Garnett would receive an “American Who Cares” award from the National AIDS Network for his dedication to AIDS education in minority communities.  Garnett also served as a board member of the National Association of People With AIDS and the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington.

Born in Chicago and a graduate of Northwestern University, Garnett studied for a doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University, completing all but his dissertation before moving to Washington in 1983.

Fifteen months before his death, in July 1986, Garrett addressed the National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, bringing public awareness to the racial disparities in how the AIDS epidemic is addressed in his adopted hometown of Washington, DC.

A staff psychologist at St. Elizabeths Hospital and the founder of a support group for Persons Living With AIDS, Garnett expressed his concerns to conference members that although African Americans made up roughly 50% of people living with AIDS in Washington, DC, they were largely absent from clinics and support groups.

The conference was organized by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, with co-sponsoring organizations National Minority AIDS Council and National Conference of Black Mayors.

Debra Fraser-Howze 2
National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS is Founded

Debra Fraser-Howze , director of teenage services at the Urban League of New York, founds the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS .

Learn More.

The organization works to educate, mobilize, and empower black leaders to meet the challenge of fighting HIV/AIDS and other health disparities in their local communities.

Fraser-Howze would lead the NBLCA for 21 years as President and CEO.  She would also become advisor to two U.S. Presidents (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) while serving on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 1995-2001.

As the nation’s oldest nonprofit organization of its kind, dedicated to educating, mobilizing and empowering Black leaders to meet the challenge of fighting HIV/AIDS, the NBLCA would evolve to become a comprehensive advocacy, policy and action organization that addresses multiple health disparities affecting Blacks/African Americans.

In 2019, the organization would change its name to National Black Leadership Commission on Health (Black Health), with an expanded focus that includes not only HIV/AIDS, but also Hepatitis C, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, sickle cell, diabetes and mental health.

AIDS Quilt - Lyle Loder 2
December 3, 1987
Hollywood UMC Member Lyle Loder Dies

Lyle Loder, member of the congregation of the Hollywood United Methodist Church, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 37.

Learn More.

Loder was a key leader in development of an LGBT witness among United Methodists in southern California during the early 1980s, recalls his friend Morris Floyd.

Feeling called to the United Methodist ministry, Loder studied philosophy and religion and served as a student pastorate while at Kansas Wesleyan University in the early 1970s, according to Floyd.  However, Loder chose to not hide his identity, and by the time of his graduation from KWU, the denomination had incorporated into its Discipline the language describing same-sex relationships as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

“Lyle’s dream of serving as a United Methodist clergyman was never realized,” writes Floyd in the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Instead, Loder would go on to help build a local congregation that would welcome lesbian and gay United Methodists in the Hollywood area.  By 1986, Loder would be an active member of HUMC and he would share with the congregation that he was living with AIDS.

In October 1987, the Health and Welfare Ministries Division of the Board of Global Ministries hosted a consultation conference on AIDS at a hotel near the San Francisco airport.  Loder was invited to help plan the conference and participate in a panel discussion about the needs of people living with AIDS.

“Lyle’s participation on a panel, sharing his story, and in the midst of it, despite everything, his love for God and his refusal to give up on the United Methodist Church,” recalls Floyd.  “He was frail and only a few weeks from death, though he did not know it at the time.  If ever God’s Spirit was present anywhere, it shone in Lyle in those hours.”

On November 29, 1987, the day before his birthday, Loder was admitted to the hospital, where he was visited by his brother.  When Loder died a few days later, many friends came to his hospital room, spread rose petals on his bed, and sang hymns

Memorial services were held at HUMC and again at Loder’s home church in Kansas.  Loder was the first of the HUMC family to die of complications of HIV/AIDS, but he wouldn’t be the last.

A memorial plaque inside the church narthex carries the names of Loder and 34 additional members of the congregation who died in the early years of the pandemic. On World AIDS Day in 1993, members of HUMC fashioned two giant red ribbons and attached them to the tower of the church.  In 1996, more permanent ribbons replaced them and remain today.

Loder’s life is also memorialized by three panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of them made by church and community worker Donna Kay Campbell.

December 29, 1987
LGBTQ Political Leader Shelley Andelson Dies

Sheldon “Shelley” Andelson, a leader in the gay community and a fundraiser for such politicians as Sen. Edward Kennedy and Walter Mondale, dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 56.

Learn More.

The founder of the Bank of Los Angeles and a successful lawyer, Andelson raised large sums for liberal politicians at parties in his Bel-Air home and at his restaurant, Trumps.  He served as a Founding Board Member for the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, which later became the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Born in Boyle Heights, Andelson was the first openly gay University of California Regent.  His nomination by Gov. Jerry Brown to the UC Board of Regents was met with a nasty confirmation battle but he ultimately served as a Regent from 1980 to 1986.

The Los Angeles Times called him a “Democratic Party heavyweight, once regarded as the nation’s most influential gay political figure.”  Andelson was instrumental in the 1980 appointment of one of the first openly gay judges in California, Rand Schrader.

Additionally, Andelson was a member of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art, director of the ACLU Foundation, and a member of a committee of the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.

The Andelson Collection at the UC Santa Barbara Library supports the teaching curriculum and research interests of faculty and students in LGBTQ+ studies across the disciplines.

January 27, 1988
Ian McKellan Comes Out on U.K. Radio to Oppose Section 28

As news of Section 28 — a new law that prohibits the acceptance of homosexuality in schools and local governmental entities — speads through the LGBTQ+ community, actor Ian McKellan decides to come out on live BBC radio to demonstrate his personal stake in his opposition to the law.

Learn More.

Broadcast live on this date in 1988, McKellan was interviewed along with Section 28 supporter Peregrine Worsthorne.  Early in the broadcast, the interviewer asks McKellan, “So you would just like to see Clause 28 disappear altogether?”

McKellen responds, “Oh, yes.  I certainly would.  Yes.  I think it’s offensive to anyone who is, like myself, homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can or cannot be taught to children.”

When Section 28 supporter Worsthorne says the clause would not have “any very serious effect on the Arts,” McKellan counters with an example of how homophobia is already impacting the country’s theater landscape.

“You are familiar with the play The Normal Heart, an American play about AIDS in the early days of AIDS in America, which had a huge impact on people’s knowledge of that disease, not just in America but when it was recently seen here in England, at the Royal Court Theatre and in the West End,” McKellan says.

“The Devonshire County Council has recently removed £10,000 from the grant to its local arts centre, because it proposes to do that play,” McKellan argues.  “And it’s in the light of that sort of, we call it, censorship, we call it restriction, we call it too strong expression of opinion, I would have thought, which makes us fear what the effect of this Clause, if it ever happened.”

AIDS Quilt - Arnie Zane
March 30, 1988
NYC Choreographer Arnie Zane Dies

Arnie Zane, the co-artistic director of Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company, a leading postmodernist dance troupe, died of AIDS-related illness at his home in Valley Cottage, New York. He was 39 years old.

Learn More.

Zane was born in the Bronx and attended public schools in New York City, receiving an undergraduate degree from the State University at Binghamton.  Zane began working with Bill T. Jones in 1971, and they formed the American Dance Asylum with Lois Welk in 1973 in Binghamton, New York.

“They made an unlikely team: Jones is tall and muscular and his dancing expansive, while Zane, short and wiry, leaped about the stage in bursts of nervous energy,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

After touring together in the U.S. and abroad, the two choreographer-dancers formed the Jones-Zane company in 1982 and appeared in that year’s Next Wave festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Through much of the 1980s, the company drew critical acclaim for its stylish, punchy dance that incorporated narrative and text set to music by noted post-modernist composers.  Zane and Jones’ choreography often explored issues such as racism, religion, sexism, and the nuclear age.

Zane held two Creative Artists Public Service Fellowships: for photography in 1973 and for choreography in 1981. He also was awarded two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 and 1984.

In 1986, he and Jones were recipients of New York’s Dance Performance Award (the “Bessie”) for their 1985 season.

Following Zane’s death, Jones kept the name of the company the same.  Published in 1990, Body Against Body: The Dance and Other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane is a collaboration by the two men, examining their work together.

“The reader of Body Against Body is left to contemplate the toll the disease is taking in the arts community and to reflect on what the premature death of so many young artists means to the performing arts, to their audience and to humanity,” wrote Charles Solomon in the LA Times.

Also in 1990, Jones (who was also diagnosed as HIV-positive) created the now canonical work, D-Man in the Waters, which explored the grief, loss and existential fear shared by many in the dance community at that time.

May 31, 1988
Society of Janus Editor Mark Joplin Dies

Markalan “Mark” Joplin, a well-loved figure in San Francisco’s SM community, dies of AIDS-related illness at Fairmont Hospital at the age of 32.

Learn More.

Joplin was co-coordinator of the newsletter published by the Society of Janus, and also served as an editor.  He was also the drummer for the San Francisco Precision Whip Drill Team in the 1987 Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade.

Joplin also wrote comic book stories and was known as a talented DJ and musician, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

August 5, 1988
Colin Higgins — Screenwriter of ‘Harold & Maude’ — Dies

Colin Higgins — acclaimed screenwriter, director, and producer of films such as Harold and Maude and 9 to 5 — dies of AIDS-related illness at his Beverly Hills home.  He was 47.

Learn More.

Best known for writing the screenplay for the 1971 cult movie Harold and Maude and for directing the films Foul Play (1978) and 9 to 5 (1980), Higgins’ last project was co-writing and co-producing with Shirley MacLaine a 1986 television mini-series based on her book, Out on a Limb.

Born on the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia, Colin Higgins lived in Australia until his family migrated to California.  He attended Stanford University on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue acting in New York, according to The Legacy Project in Chicago.  From there, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and worked overseas for the newspaper Stars and Stripes. Returning to the U.S. in 1965, he re-entered Stanford, where he wrote a rough treatment for the story of Harold and Maude as part of his Master’s thesis.

Harold and Maude was the story of an unlikely romance between a suicidal teenager, played by Bud Cort, and an eccentric 80-year-old woman, portrayed by Ruth Gordon. The film drew scant attention when it was released in 1971, but went on to become a revival-house and college campus classic.

Higgins, who was openly gay, wrote the TV movie The Devil’s Daughter (1972), followed by a stage version of Harold and Maude, which ran in Paris for seven years.  His Hollywood breakthrough occured with his screenplay for the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder movie Silver Streak (1976).  Higgins followed this by writing and directing Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase in Foul Play (1978) and then Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin in the smash hit 9 to 5 (1980).  In 1982, he directed the film version of the stage musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.

Following his diagnosis with HIV in 1985, Higgins founded the Colin Higgins Foundation to provide support for LGBT youth.   The foundation supports numerous LGBTQ organizations, ranging from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender outreach and AIDS prevention programs.

Since 1988, the Foundation has awarded over 660 grants totaling over $5.8 million dollars to further the humanitarian vision of its founder, Colin Higgins.

August 9, 1988
Needle-Exchange Program Begins in Tacoma

On a sidewalk in Tacoma, Washington, drug counselor David Purchase sets up the nation’s first needle-exchange program to combat the spread of HIV .

Learn More.

Although secures support from the Tacoma mayor and police chief for his one-man effort, Purchase must pay out-of-pocket for the needles.

Within five months, he would exchange 13,000 clean needles for contaminated ones.

Purchase would go on to form the North American Syringe Exchange Network, and become known as the “Godfather of Needle Exchange.”

AIDS Quilt - Angels of Light
August 15, 1988
Angels of Light Founder Rodney Price Dies

Rodney Price, co-founder of the wildly creative Angels of Light performance troupe in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.

Learn More.

Price may be best remembered for his final performance, singing and tap dancing in his wheelchair in the film short Song From an Angel.  Made two weeks prior to his death, Price performs a darkly humorous song about his own death, “I’ve Got Less Time Than You.”

August 27, 1988
‘Father of West Hollywood’ Ron Stone Dies

Ronald L. Stone, the major architect of the incorporation campaign that made a city out of the community of West Hollywood in 1984, dies at his home of AIDS-related illness at the age of 40.

Learn More.

Stone was instrumental in turning the 1.9-square-mile wedge of unincorporated Los Angeles County into the first American city to be governed by a gay majority.

“Without him it wouldn’t have happened,” said John Heilman, then-Councilmember of the new city.

Compelled by a vision of open, local government, Stone saw cityhood as the means by which West Hollywood’s 36,000 residents — most of them renters, many of them gay or elderly — could shape key community issues such as zoning, rent control and anti-discrimination laws.

“He was really concerned about having local control over zoning and planning,” Heilman told the Los Angeles Times.

In his 2014 article about the founding of West Hollywood, former WeHoville editor Henry E. Scott,  wrote:  “It was the construction of a hotel in his neighborhood in 1983, and a county decision to limit the hours at the pool at West Hollywood Park, that prompted Ron Stone, then 37, to take a look at the impact of development and the county’s governance on the area.”

Early on, Stone won the support of an influential renters rights activist, Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival. A major goal of CES was strengthening renter rights so that people could access and keep affordable housing.

In 1983, Gross was assessing the aftermath of CES’s losing campaign to introduce a rent control ordinance in Los Angeles County.  The ballot measure failed to capture the majority of votes, most likely because many of the county’s residents were homeowners, landlords and developers.  In West Hollywood, however, the ballot measure passed by a five-to-one majority.

Through its work on the county rent control initiative, CES had assembled a large base of supporters in West Hollywood.  Gross and Stone organized canvassers to circulate petitions proposing that West Hollywood become its own city – and one out of every four registered voters signed on.  With that petition and economic data, the newly formed West Hollywood Incorporation Committee won the approval of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which assessed the feasibility of West Hollywood as its own city.

Stone also secured the support of the Stonewall Democratic Club and the Harvey Milk Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, both of which created excitement about the prospect of a city run by LGBTQ officials.  But what ultimately united individuals and groups from a variety of backgrounds — seniors on limited incomes, renters, and gay and lesbian residents concerned about discrimination — was the city’s soaring rents and the lack of any effective way to regulate them.

The Board of Supervisors, which at that time consisted of conversative officials, agreed to put cityhood on the Novemer 1984 ballot.  Immediately, 44 people announced their candidacy for five seats on the West Hollywood City Council.  While 19 of the candidates were gay or lesbian, all of the candidates stated they supported gay rights and rent control of some sort.

Meanwhile, local landlords and developers began to mobilize in opposition of cityhood.  One early opponent was Francis J. Montgomery, a local landowner whose family still manages the Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood.  Montgomery funded a campaign to try to convince the area’s seniors that cityhood would give LGBT people undue influence.  That strategy failed.

Then Montgomery and other landlords and developers formed the West Hollywood Concerned Citizens coalition, and appealed to LA County officials to create a special rent control district for the West Hollywood area.  The coalition hoped that the conservative-leaning officials would create rent-control policies that would be weaker than those a new City Council might adopt.  That effort also failed.

In the November 1984 election, a majority of residents voted to make their unincorporated area the 84th city in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the new city was “heralded worldwide as creating ‘A Gay Camelot’ — the first openly gay-run city in the nation.”

Almost immediately, the city’s newly elected officials and newly hired staff launched programs for a wide range of services for its residents.  Among the new programs were services providing hot meals, healthcare, low-cost housing, taxi coupons for senior citizens, early childhood education, and even pet care for people with AIDS.  The Metropolitan Community Church, a gay and lesbian faith organization with a worldwide membership of 42,000, moved its headquarters from Culver City to West Hollywood to “be part of this community.”

After the cityhood victory, Ron Stone ran twice for City Council and lost both times.  But he remained active in civic affairs, offering advice behind the scenes, attending council meetings and serving on committees.

In 1987, just as the city was beginning to thrive, Stone’s health began to decline.  After his death, he would be publicly lauded as “the father of West Hollywood.”

September 3, 1988
“Hooray for Hollywood’ Benefit on Fire Island Supports God’s Love We Deliver

Gloria DeMann and her husband Larry host an extravagant benefit at their bayfront home on Fire Island to raise money for the AIDS service provider God’s Love We Deliver.

Learn More.

The event, titled “Hooray for Hollywood, was one of the most famous benefits in Pines history at one of the most historic party houses on Fire Island, according to the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society.  Showman Peter Allen and comedian Joan Rivers performed, as well as Chippendale Dancers and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

Gloria DeMann, owner of the Manhattan restaurant Café Pacifico, often opened the doors of her home for big parties, and she went all-out for this one.  Proceeds for the benefit went to God’s Love We Deliver, a three-year-old organization that provided free, nutrious meals for people with AIDS.

God’s Love was founded in 1985 by hospice volunteer Ganga Stone, who began cooking and delivering meals (by bicycle) to one of her clients, Richard Sale, a 32-year-old New York actor who was dying of AIDS.  Stone soon recruited her roommate, Jane Ellent Best, and other friends to help her, and an organization was born.

Sale was born in Texas in 1952, graduated from Denton High School in 1970, and attended the University of Michigan.  He acted in New York stage productions, but then died of AIDS-related illness on August 29, 1985 at the age of 33.

Stone, who was told by a minister that “you’re not just delivering food, You’re delivering God’s love,” would lead her organization of a handful of volunteers into a world-class service provider with a budget of $23 million.  In 2021, the year Stone died at the age of 79, God’s Love would distribute 2.5 million meals to 10,000 people homebound in the New York metropolitan area.

October 11, 1988
ACT UP Shuts Down FDA Headquarters in Rockville, MD

Over 1,000 members and supporters of the activist group ACT UP engage in a massive sit-in that shuts down the Rockville, MD offices of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA is targeted for refusing to release HIV/AIDS medications until tests prove them to be safe and effective.

Learn More.

Arguing that the FDA’s approval process is too slow and that patients dying of AIDS have little to lose by trying experimental medications, ACT UP brings hundreds of its members to the Washington, D.C. area to demonstrate.  They manage to stop business as usual for the day, with ACT UP graphics and banners covering the building’s facade.

“Our takeover of the FDA was unquestionably the most significant demonstration of the AIDS activist movement’s first two years,” organizer Douglas Crimp writes in The Atlantic.

In advance of the event, ACT UP groups across the country conduct teach-ins to provide members with knowledge of complicated issues related to HIV/AIDS treatment.

ACT UP then shares this information, along with their demands to the FDA, with the press in the days leading up to the demonstration.

“The FDA action was ‘sold’ in advance to the media almost like a Hollywood movie,” Crimp writes, “with a carefully prepared and presented press kit, hundreds of phone calls to members of the press, and activists’ appearances scheduled on television and radio talk shows around the country.”

On the day of the FDA demonstration, the media shows up in force to get the story and, due to the advance preparation by ACT UP, reporters are able to report it with a degree of accuracy and sympathy.

ACT UP groups from around the country engage all day in skirmishes with the Rockville police, who apparently are ordered to keep the number of arrests low to minimize media drama.

Protesters push at police lines outside the 20-story building, shouting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “No more deaths!” as curious workers stare down from windows.

When protesters attempt to enter the building, they are forcibly restrained but not arrested.  Even so, police ultimately arrest 176 protestors, most on loitering charges

Eight days later, the FDA announces new regulations to speed up the process.  In addition, government agencies addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly the FDA and NIH, began to listen to activist leaders and ask for their input.

November 28, 1988
Elizabeth Glaser Launches Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Elizabeth Glaser, an HIV-positive mother of two HIV-positive children, forms the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Learn More.

The Foundation funds cutting-edge research that leads to improved treatments for children living with HIV/AIDS and helps to establish protocols to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Elizabeth Glaser contracted HIV in a blood transfusion in 1981 while giving birth to her daughter, Ariel. She and her husband, Paul Glaser (who starred in the 1970s television series, Starsky & Hutch), later learned that Elizabeth had unknowingly passed the virus on to Ariel through breast milk and that their son, Jake, had contracted the virus in utero.

The Glasers discovered that the only HIV treatment drugs on the market were for adults; nothing had been developed for children.

After Ariel lost her life to AIDS in 1988, Elizabeth approached her friends Susie Zeegen and Susan DeLaurentis for help in creating the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Elizabeth would die of AIDS-related illness in 1994, and and to honor her legacy, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation would be renamed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Under this name, the Foundation would become the leading global nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing pediatric HIV infection and eliminating pediatric AIDS through research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs.

Elizabeth’s legacy would live on with the Foundation and in her son, Jake, who is a healthy adult and  pediatric AIDS advocate.


December 12, 1988
Gay GOP Activist Duke Armstrong Dies

Duke Armstrong, a lawyer, leather man and Republican Party activist in the Bay Area, dies of AIDS-related illness at Davies Medical Center at the age of 39.

Learn More.

Armstrong was president of the Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights (which later became the Log Cabin Republicans) and worked to bridge differences between the GOP and San Francisco’s gay community.

As someone known for prioritizing gay rights above party politics, Armstrong was a well-liked activist even in a locale known as a Democratic Party stronghold.  In 1986, Armstrong was elected “Mr. CMC Carnaval” at the Folsom neighborhood street fair.  He was a member of the local leather scene, as was his partner Jerry Roberts.

When the City of San Francisco began to take actions toward closing bathhouses, Armstrong teamed with Thomas H. Steel, a prominent civil rights lawyer, to represent San Francisco bathhouse owners who organized against regulation in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.  Steel would die on July 18, 1998 of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.

Earlier in 1988, Armstrong was presented with a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  He had also been honored by the Golden Gate Business Association and had received several Cable Car Awards for his community service.

AIDS Quilt - Sylvester
December 16, 1988
Singer-Performer Sylvester Dies

Singer Sylvester dies of AIDS-related illness at age 41.  Born Sylvester James, Jr., the black performer is known internationally as “the Queen of Disco.”

Learn More.

Famous for his song “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” Sylvester is the lead singer and co-creator of one of the all-time top LGBTQ anthems.

Born in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, Sylvester had been a member of the ’60s group the Disquotays — which was “somewhere between a street gang and a sorority house,” as one former member puts it.

He moved to San Francisco in 1970 at the age of 22 and joined the Cockettes, a “cross-dressing hippy performance art troupe,” and sang blues and jazz standards in his gospel-trained voice in solo segments of the show, writes Alexis Petrides in The Guardian.  In the early 70s, he made a bid for mainstream success fronting the Hot Band.

“But the U.S. wasn’t ready for an androgynous black man doing covers of Neil Young songs and A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Petrides writes.  “Band members were threatened with violence when they toured in southern states.”

Sylvester’s career was beginning to take hold in 1978, when “Mighty Real” is released on his second solo album and then later as a single.  When the song catches fire, he would travel to London to perform to packed clubs and be mobbed by fans.  Sylvester would release another 12 albums, many of them featuring top hits and nightclub mainstays.  An album containing Sylvester’s final studio recordings, titled Immortal, woud be posthumously released.

Devastated when his partner, Rick Cranmer, died of AIDS-related illness in September 1987, Sylvester suspected then that he was HIV-positive but declined to be tested.

As a persistent cough begins to develop into more serious symptoms, Sylvester is unable to tour but continues performing for fans in the Bay Area.  Eventually diagnosed with AIDS, he is hospitalized in May 1988 with pneumocystis pneumonia.

Later in the year, Sylvester attends the Castro’s 1988 Gay Freedom Parade in a wheelchair, joining those marching with the “People With AIDS” banner.  Passing crowds along Market Street, Sylvester could hear his name shouted out again and again.  He continues to give interviews to the media, seeking to raise awareness about the pandemic’s impact on the black community.

A month later, Sylvester would die in his home at the age of 41.  He had planned his own funeral down to the details of how he would be dressed (in a red kimono), how his body would be displayed (in an open coffin), and where the service would be held (in his church, the Love Center, with a sermon by the Reverend Walter Hawkins).

Sylvester’s legacy is such that in 2018, the prestigious University of Sussex in England would host an interdisciplinary academic conference on disco and Sylvester’s contribution to the genre.

Chris Brownlie hospice
December 26, 1988
Chris Brownlie Hospice Opens in Los Angeles

The first AIDS hospice in California opens in Elysian Park in Los Angeles, down the street from Dodger Stadium.

Learn More.

Furnished with 25 beds, the AIDS Hospice Foundation (which was renamed Chris Brownlie Hospice) opened its doors the day after Christmas to provide 24-hour medical and palliative care to people living through the final stages of AIDS.

From 1988 to 1996, thousands of people suffering through the final stages of AIDS were cared for with dignity and compassion at Chris Brownlie Hospice.  The facility was founded on the idea that, if people were going to pass away as a result of AIDS, they should at least have the opportunity for their lives to end as painlessly and with as much dignity as humanly possible.

Located in a former nursing quarters, the hospice was the brainchild of the Los Angeles AIDS Hospice Committee, founded in 1987 by activists Chris Brownlie and Michael Weinstein as well as Sharon Raphael, PhD, and Mina Meyer, MA, two nationally-recognized women’s and gay & lesbian advocates.

A front-door sign reads, “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Straight, Women, Men, Black, Brown, White, Yellow, Red, Young and Old.  All Are Welcome Here.”

On Saturday, January 26, 1996, the organization would return the property to the City of Los Angeles with a sunset memorial ceremony celebrating the years of hope and help the hospice gave to thousands of brave people battling AIDS.  By 1996, the world of AIDS would be changed; new antiretroviral treatment would mean an HIV-positive diagnosis signified a change in one’s life, not the end of it.

During the ceremony, the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus performed in memory of the hundreds who died there, including 140 chorus members.  As the sun set, seven balloons — one for each year the hospice was in operation — were released.

AIDS Quilt - Joseph Beam
December 27, 1988
Activist-Author Joseph Beam Dies

Gay rights activist and writer Joseph Beam dies of AIDS-related illness three days before his 34th birthday. He is best known for editing In the Life, the first collection of writings by gay black men on the impact of HIV/AIDS on their community.

Learn More.

Today, In the Life is widely regarded as a literary and cultural milestone in gay literature.

A native of Philadelphia, Beam attended Franklin College in Indiana, where he studied journalism and was an active member of the black student union and the Black Power movement.

After earning a his master’s degree in communications, Beam returned to Philadelphia in 1979, and explored literature on gay figures and institutions while working at Giovanni’s Room, an LGBT bookstore.  Discouraged by the lack of community for black gay men and lesbians, Beam began writing articles and short stories for gay publications.

In 1984, he received an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist from The Lesbian and Gay Press Association.  In 1985, he became the first editor of Black/Out, a journal produced by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays.

Beam would continue to collect materials about being black and gay and find ways to increase their reach. In 1986, he produced the first collection written by black gay men, called In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology.

Beam dies from AIDS-related complications at the age of 33 while compiling the sequel, “Brother to Brother.”  His mother, Dorothy Beam, and poet Essex Hemphill would go on to complete the work and it is published in 1991.

January 3, 1989
APLA Adopts Austerity Program

Three months after the head of AIDS Project Los Angeles quits amid a cash shortage and staff revolt, the organization adopts an austerity program that appears to be working.

Learn More.

Internal conflicts  continue as increasing numbers of people from locations countywide ask the organization for help.  At base of the conflict is its mission, which started as a compassionate care program funded by and for white gay men in the Hollywood area.  In recent years, APLA finds itself besieged with requests of help from county residents outside the area, including many people of color and heterosexuals.

“We can no longer be all things to all people,” says APLA’s interim Chief Executive Frank Paradise.

Torie Osborn, Executive Director of the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center), says that APLA’s early success led its leaders to believe they could take on anything.

“They set themselves apart,” Osborn tells the LA Times.  “Their attitude was ‘we’re the biggest and we’re the best.’  They grew isolated from the community from which they sprang.”

APLA was founded in 1982 and emerged as a pioneer in providing services to people with AIDS at a time when the government provided no support.  What began as four volunteers in a living room grew into an organization with a food bank, dental clinic, a 14-bed shelter (“Our House”), a transportation program, a hotline, an educational program and a system of case management.

With a budget of $8.2 million, APLA continues to operate as a volunteer-based organization with paid leadership.  The organization is still adjusting from recent moves to replace several of its key paid positions and search for a new executive director.

January 4, 1989
LA Center Resurrects HIV Testing Program

The LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center) finds an insurance carrier willing to cover HIV testing and other AIDS-related services at its Edelman Health Center.

Learn More.

The clinic was forced to shut down in December 1988 when Boston-based Lexington Insurance Co. pulled its coverage.

January 21, 1989
Protesters Hold Weeklong Vigil at LA County Medical Center

About 150 protesters hold a weeklong vigil in front of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, which hospitalizes an average of 50-60 persons with AIDS at any given time and has a reported caseload of 6,240 PWAs.

Learn More.

Demontrators blast the facility’s inadequate care and treatment of PWAs, including misdiagnosis, miscalculated prescriptions, and insufficent capacity.

Demanding that the center create a 50-bed AIDS ward within six months, the activists stage a mock AIDS ward with cots and a soup kitchen, and then hold candlelight vigils at sunset.

In response, an aide to LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich tells the Los Angeles Times that the County does not have enough money for expanded AIDS services.

On the seventh day of the protest, LA County Supervisor Ed Edelman, who represents West Hollywood and the Westside’s Third District, would come to the event and demand that the County begin to provide “necessary care” for people with AIDS.

Calling the revelation that LA County has more than $8 million of unspent AIDS funding “intolerable,” Supervisor Edelman promises to meet with ACT UP/LA and county officials.

“We can’t afford to keep the status quo,” he says.

But when he’s jeered by some in the crowd, he says, “It’s not just up to me,” and abruptly leaves.

Activist Michael Callen Defends Accusations with Proof

AIDS activist Michael Callen publishes in the People With AIDS Coalition Newsline a letter from his physician, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, and his pathology report of his Kaposi’s sarcoma diagnosis.

Learn More.

“There are easier ways to meet Liz Taylor then by pretending you have the most stigmatized disease of this century,” Callen would tell the Los Angeles Times in a month later.

In an attempt to counter accusations of “faking AIDS” because he appears healthy almost seven years after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Callen puts the rumors to rest by publishing the pathology report of  his Kaposi’s sarcoma diagnosis.

The LA Times article notes that Callen’s long-term survival isn’t unusual, citing a 1987 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine which finds that 20.7% of “non-IV-drug using gay men with AIDS” are still alive four years after diagnosis.

This is one of many indications surfacing that living long-term with AIDS is possible.

February 2, 1989
ACT UP Protests FDA Protocols for DHPG, Forcing Policy Reversal

ACT UP protests the FDA’s new protocols for the drug DHPG (Gancyclovir) that would deny many current DHPG users from continuing to access the drug.

Learn More.

The action results in the FDA granting access to DHPG under “compassionate use” while the agency reconsiders its methods.

The next day, the FDA would formally authorize pre-approval distribution of aerosolized pentamidine for the prevention of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), conceding to the demands of AIDS activist Michael Callen and Dr. Joseph Sonnabend.

February 13, 1989
Op-ed by ACT UP Exposes LA County Healthcare Failures

The Los Angeles Times publishes “Fumbling on AIDS Causes Waste, Suffering,” an op-ed by ACT UP Los Angeles members Peter Cashman, John Fall, and Enric Morello about the devistating failures of the LA County healthcare system.

Learn More.

“Who’s in charge here? Nobody, it seems,” they write. “Since the epidemic began nine years ago, the county’s only major organized response has been to open an outpatient clinic, which has proved grossly inadequate.”

People needing an initial visit must schedule it eight weeks in advance, the activists contend.

They continue: “People with temperatures of 103 or higher sit for hours on hard wooden benches waiting for help.  Some receive chemotherapy in crowded hallways, vomiting in bags.  Others in the same hallways, stripped to the waist, have IVs hooked to their arms.”

The activists express anger about LA County’s failure to put to use $8.6 million in AIDS funding, saying, “services go unprovided, facilities unrehabilitated, staff unrecruited and more patients continue to suffer and die needlessly.”

In the op-ed, Cashman, Fall, and Morello show compassion for the hard-working county healthcare staff, crediting them with being “caring” and doing their best amid “poor conditions.”

March 10, 1989
Dr. Richard Hamilton — Bay Area Doctor — Dies

Richard R. Hamilton, M.D., one of San Francisco’s first openly gay general practitioners, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Orange, California.  He was 44.

Learn More.

Affectionately called “Dr. Dick” by his clients, Dr. Hamilton authored The Herpes Book (1980) and was well-known for his expertise in treating sexually transmitted diseases in gay men.  He fostered a professional climate in his office of understanding, acceptance and support, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

When AIDS appeared in the Bay Area, Dr. Hamilton responded by focusing on finding effective treatments for AIDS-related illnesses.  He was one of the founding members of the County Community Consortium, an organization of local AIDS care providers.  He also was a member of the State of California’s AIDS Advisory Committee and the AIDS Advisory Committee of Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center.

March 20, 1989
Visual AIDS Founder William Olander Dies

William Olander, the senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, dies of AIDS-related illness in Minneapolis at the age of 38.

Learn More.

Olander arrived at the New Museum in 1985, and specialized in performance art and video, especially post-modernist language and theory.

Olander’s 1986 exhibition “Homovideo: Where We are Now” included several videos responding to the spreading of the AIDS virus.  In 1987, he invited the group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to present an installation in the museum’s window on Broadway near Prince Street.

ACT UP’s artist group, Gran Fury, responded to the opportunity with “Let the Record Show.”  The exhibit juxtaposed information and statistics on AIDS with indifferent, callous or manipulative responses to the epidemic from national figures, all bathed in the glow of a neon sign that proclaimed “SILENCE = DEATH.”

The neon piece became part of the New Museum’s permanent collection, and the SILENCE = DEATH graphic was widely disseminated through t-shirts, wheatpastes, and other printed materials.

In 1988, Olander and three friends founded Visual AIDS, the only contemporary arts organization dedicated to raising AIDS awareness by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications — while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS.  Visual AIDS was one of the first national initiatives to record the impact of the AIDS pandemic on the artistic community.

Olander lived in New York but had returned to Minneapolis to be with his family during the last months of his life.  His longtime companion, Christopher Cox, would die 18 months later, on September 7, 1990.

Olander’s name on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt reads: “Let the record show that there are many in the community of art and artists who choose not to be silent in the 1980s.”

To honor Olander’s ongoing legacy, Visual AIDS presents the “Bill Olander Award” anually to artists living with HIV.

April 10, 1989
First HIV-information Center Opens in West Hollywood

The nation’s first HIV-information center opens at the West Hollywood Library, offering access to current, accurate and often expensive materials about AIDS treatment and prevention.

Learn More.

West Hollywood’s HIV Center was the result of the persistence and diligence of local activist Ron Shipton, who at 43 years old was living with HIV.  He decided that the community deserved to have access to up-to-the-minute information about HIV that was regularly published in medical journals and he set about to make it happen.

Shipton spoke with a librarian at the local library and also wrote to City Council, asking why he and his friends should spend hundreds of dollars on medical journals “when the rich city of West Hollywood could buy it for the library.”

He asked for the library to start carrying a subscription to the AIDS Targeted Information Network, which publishes abstracts of important medical journal articles about the virus and the disease.  With initial funding of $20,000 from the City of West Hollywood and County of Los Angeles, the library secured a subscription for public use and then went much further.

The HIV Center, which was the first of its kind in the country, opened with a robust collection of materials that included periodicals, pamphlets, books and, perhaps most importantly, a computer terminal with free access to the Computerized AIDS Information Network (CAIN).  Library staff and volunteers were trained to help visitors with navigating reference system.

Volunteers from the HIV/AIDS service organizations Being Alive and West Hollywood Cares advised the library on the selection of reading materials and with information on testing, treatment and support facilities.

“I think there is something there for everybody, Dan Solliday of Being Alive told the LA Times.   “We have tried to get well-rounded resources for college students and clinicians.”

The City would continue to fund updates and expansions of the HIV Center’s resources, including the addition of a free STD Clinic coordinated by Being Alive for testing, vaccines, treatments, and preventative services.

First housed in the original West Hollywood Library at 715 N. San Vicente Blvd., the collection would move in October 2011 to a newly constructed library at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. and would be renamed the Ron Shipton HIV Information Center.

October 26, 1989
Cynthia Slater — Founder of Society of Janus — Dies

Cynthia Slater, co-founder of the leather/SM organization Society of Janus, dies of AIDS-related illness at Pacific Presbyterian Hospital in San Francisco.  She was 44 years old.

Learn More.

A few months before she died, Slater received an award from Shanti Project, which recognized her for her AIDS activism on behalf of women with AIDS/HIV specifically and all people with AIDS generally.

Before Slater became an AIDS activist, she stirred up controversary as the founder of Society of Janus, the still-active leather/BDSM organization that often rattled anti-pornography feminists and the religious right during the 1970s and early 1980s.

While working as a dominatrix in the early ’70s, a client’s spouse asked Slater for more information about her husband’s interest in BDSM.  Sensing that there might be a widespread interest in such things, Slater and her partner, Larry Olsen, started the first version of the Society of Janus in 1972 by running a classified ad in the back of a counter-culture newspaper, The Berkeley Barb.

Ten people showed up for the first meeting of what would become the Society of Janus, and Slater said she was excited about connecting with others who shared interests that until then had been kept secret.

“There was this isolation pressing in on me, and I felt the need to get together with people with whom I could exchange information, and get a little support from besides,” said Slater in an 1983 interview.

According to the Leather Hall of Fame, Slater did almost all of the work in the first phase of the organization.  She published out a newsletter, held meetings at her home, provided food, and cleaned up after.  As Janus took shape, Slater developed an approach to the theory and practice of SM.

As an early proponent of SM safety, she hosted Janus Society safety demonstrations during the late ’70s, cultivating a space for women within the male-dominated scene established within the leather/kink/fetish culture.  According a tribute to Slater in Living in Leather’s website, Slater coined the term “SM 101,” referring to the safety demonstrations and classes she presented.

While most of her activities were local, Slater influenced many people who became active safer-sex education.  Slater’s teachings, ideas, and lessons were re-created by others at regional and national organizations, especially in the late 1980s as the AIDS epidemic spread.

Slater was well-known in many of the Bay Area’s fringe communities, and in 1980, she was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe.  When safe sex education was being developed by gay communities in the early 1980s, Slater and bisexual activist David Lourea visited presented bathhouses and sex clubs in San Francisco to present safer-sex education workshops.

In 1985, Slater learned she was HIV+ and she was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. During this period, she became more involved with Shanti Project and began attending support groups.  She wrote an article for Shanti’s newsletter encouraging PWAs to not remain isolated or seek “sameness” when it came to getting support.

In her article, Slater noted that while not faulting PWAs for doing so, there is a risk of eliminating others “until we end up an association of one.”

Even when tending to her declining health, Slater continued to advocate for other PWAs to connect across difference and find commonality among people with diverging agendas.  She also fought to bring attention to the lack of resources for women living with AIDS/HIV in San Francisco.  Despite the city’s reputation for being the leading place for compassionate care for PWAs, women were often overlooked by outreach efforts and service programs.

In an 1989 television interview about her award from Shanti Project, Slater told reporters: “The numbers [of women with AIDS] are changing … and it’s a discounting the value of individuals. How many women have to die before we start to count?”

In her article for the Shanti PWA newsletter, Slater wrote:

“We who are facing life-threatening illness also find ourselves examining issues that most folks don’t readily look at: ‘What is death?’ ‘What does my life mean?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘What do I really need and is that different from what I want?’

“In our support group, it’s not so much that the questions we ask are the same as it is that we share an awareness that we don’t seem to have forever for the exploration. These bonds are the earth of our common meeting ground … We have no basis on which to stigmatize each other, for when we do so we are oppressing ourselves.”

In 2014, Slater was posthumously inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.  In 2017, Slater was honored at the San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley, where her bootprints are immortalized alongside 27 other important figures in San Francisco alternative culture history.

AIDS Quilt - Cookie Mueller
November 10, 1989
Cult Movie Icon Cookie Mueller Dies

Cookie Mueller, a key member of film director John Waters’ Dreamlanders ensemble, dies from AIDS-related causes in New York City at age 40.

Learn More.

Mueller would meet John Waters at the premiere of his 1969 film Mondo Trasho.  Cookie went on to join Waters’ Dreamlanders ensemble and would act in five movies for Waters.

Moving to New York City in 1976, she became a cocaine dealer and writer.  She wrote the health column “Ask Dr. Mueller” for the East Village Eye, was an art critic for Details magazine, and wrote the novella Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls, the memoir Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, and several collections of short prose.

Mueller became a muse to many of the photographers and directors of the NYC art/music/film scene.  She would have her portrait taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, and appear in Amos Poe’s Subway Riders, Edo Bertoglio’s Downtown ’81 and Michel Auder’s A Coupla White Faggots Sitting Around Talking.  She also would be featured prominently in her friend Nan Goldin’s iconic The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

Goldin would later recall that she was with Mueller on Fire Island in New York when they first learned of AIDS in 1981, referred to as a “gay cancer” at the time. “Cookie just started reading this item out loud from The New York Times about this new illness… we all kind of laughed it off.”

By 1985, many of Golden’s close friends and acquaintances would be diagnosed with the virus, including Mueller.

Goldin would write in ASX:  “We were very obsessed with what caused it: There were all kinds of rumors, everything from amyl nitrate to bacon. I was in denial that people were going to die. I thought people could beat it. And then people started dying.”

In 1986, Goldin would photograph Mueller’s wedding to Vittorio Scarpati.  An artist who was an HIV-positive heroin addict, Scarpati would create a heartbreaking series of whimsical deathbed drawings of himself and Mueller.

Scarpati would die in 1988, and Goldin would photograph Mueller, by that time walking with a cane, beside her husband’s casket.  After Scarpati’s death, Mueller’s health would begin a steep decline.

“When I went to see Cookie in Provincetown, she had lost her voice,” recalls Goldin. “Her laughter and her verbal wit had been so much of her personality. The fact that she couldn’t talk, the fact that she couldn’t walk without a cane was so devastating that I was calling every doctor, screaming at the impotence I felt.”

Shortly before her dealth, Mueller would write in her final column for the East Village Eye:

“Fortunately I am not the first person to tell you that you will never die. You simply lose your body. You will be the same, except you won’t have to worry about rent or mortgages or fashionable clothes. You will be released from sexual obsessions. You will not have drug addictions. You will not need alcohol. You will not have to worry about cellulite or cigarettes or cancer or AIDS or venereal disease. You will be free.”

November 26, 1989
AIDS-Care Activist Chris Brownlie Dies

AIDS-care activist Chris Brownlie, for whom the first Los Angeles County-supported AIDS hospice was named, dies of AIDS-related illness at his Silver Lake home at the age of 39.

Learn More.

Born in Farmington, NY, Brownlie had been active in LGBTQ politics since the early 1970s, when he helped found the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center.

Since the mid-1980s, the one-time greeting card company owner also worked for a variety of AIDS-care projects, including service as a volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and the Minority AIDS Project.  He also helped found the nonprofit AIDS Hospice Foundation, an outgrowth of the 1986 Stop AIDS Quarantine Committee, which defeated a state ballot initiative that would have required detention of those testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

Faced with inaction by the then-conservative Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Hospice Foundation members picketed in front of Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s home.  Brownlie, meanwhile, appeared before the LA County Commission on AIDS, emotionally demanding: “You find a way for me to die at home in the arms of my loved ones, or a facility in which my loved ones can care for me in dignity.”

When supervisors eventually voted $2 million for AIDS health care, the Hospice Foundation agreed to operate a facility in Elysian Park at the site of Barlow Hospital’s old nursing quarters.

The 25-bed facility was named the Chris Brownlie Hospice, according to foundation President Michael Weinstein, “because he is a representative of those in the community who have the spirit, courage and grace to fight for those with AIDS.”

The Chris Brownlie Hospice, which had a waiting list in late 1989, was the largest of its kind in the county and offered 24-hour medical service.  At that time, construction was under way on another 25-bed hospice to be operated by the foundation on the grounds of Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.

“If you want a miracle that is better than any drug, work to make life better,” Brownlie said at the start of construction of the Chris Brownlie Hospice.

“Of course, I’ve always hoped that I would not die, that I would live forever,” Brownlie told The LA Times when the facility opened.  “But on another level, I actually get a sense of well-being about this experience.  Sometimes it becomes very profound in a religious sense at the edges of my consciousness.  And this is what the hospice program is about.  It will help others accept the fact that death, too, is part of the life experience.”

Shortly after traveling to Sonoma, Arizona for a vacation with his longtime partner, Phill Wilson, Brownlie became very ill and eventually slipped into a coma.

He was cared for at his namesake hospice, where he would occasionally wake up from the coma and talk with Wilson.

“Finally, after about eight or nine days of that, he woke up and he said, ‘Take me home.’  I knew what he meant, and so I said, ‘We’re going home,’ and nobody agreed,” Wilson told PBS’s Frontline in a 2004 interview.  “The doctor said no; the nurses said no; all of our friends said no.  They didn’t think that I could take care of him.

“I brought him home, and we [got] a little hospital bed and all the supplies, and I kept saying, ‘We won’t need all of that; we won’t need all of that,’ because I knew that he wanted to come home to die.  He wanted to come home so that the last minutes would be in our space, and so we brought him home.”

Wilson said he carried Brownlie into the house, put him into bed and sat with him.  After taking a short nap at the suggestion of the home nurse, Wilson returned to Brownlie’s room and found him “breathing the kind of labored breathing [where] you can kind of hear death happening.”

Wilson said he climbed into bed with Brownlie and whispered that it was okay now, it was going to be OK, and that he was going to be OK.

He sang to Brownlie a favorite song, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

“The words are ‘Let me call you sweetheart/ I’m in love with you/ Let me hear you whisper/ That you love me, too,'” Wilson recalled.  “And he took a breath, and then he didn’t take another breath.”

December 1, 1989
Visual AIDS Organizes First ‘Day Without Art’

In response to the worsening AIDS crisis and coinciding with the World Health Organization’s second annual World AIDS Day, Visual AIDS organized its first “Day Without Art.”

Learn More.

More than 800 arts organizations, museums and galleries throughout the U.S. participated by shrouding artworks and replacing them with information about HIV and safer sex, locking their doors or dimming their lights, and producing exhibitions, programs, readings, memorials, rituals, and performances.

Founded in 1988, Visual AIDS utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.  The contemporary arts organization is dedicated to raising AIDS awareness around HIV issues today, by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications — while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS.

The organization supports the preservation of the work of artists with HIV/AIDS and the artistic contributions of the AIDS movement.

AIDS Quilt - Keith Haring
February 16, 1990
Artist Keith Haring Dies

Pop artist Keith Haring dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 31 at his LaGuardia Place apartment in Greenwich Village.

Learn More.

Between 1980 and 1989, Haring achieved international recognition and participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition in New York was held at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981, according to the Keith Haring Foundation.

Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centers and orphanages.

Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images.

Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS.  By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience and assure the accessibility and staying power of his imagery, which has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.

Since his death, Haring has been the subject of several international retrospectives. The work of Keith Haring can be seen today in the exhibitions and collections of major museums around the world.

AIDS Quilt - Ryan White
April 8, 1990
Teen Activist Ryan White Dies

Ryan White dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 18.

Learn More.

White was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 13, following a blood transfusion in December 1984.  Living with his family in Kokomo, Indiana, doctors told his parents that he had six months to live but he proved to be more resiliant.

White became a national celebrity when he and his family fought AIDS-related discrimination following his school district’s refusal to let him return to school.

Along with his mother Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan rallied for his right to attend school and became the face of public education about his disease.

After winning a lengthy court case allowing him to return to his classes, Ryan was taunted and shunned by other students. Vandals broke the windows of the White’s home, and cashiers refused to touch his mother’s hands when making change at the supermarket.

Ryan is considered one of the most effective proponents of increasing awareness about HIV/AIDS, Ryan served as an eloquent spokesman about AIDS to his classmates, journalists and, through TV appearances, the American public.

“He valiantly fought against a battalion of bigots who saw AIDS as some kind of divine retribution against gay men and intravenous drug users — two of the largest groups stricken with AIDS during this time,” writes Dr. Howard Markel in PBS’s profile on Ryan Wyite.

He dies one month before his high school graduation and only months before Congress passes the legislation bearing his name — the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.  His name would also be given to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, the largest federal program designed specifically for people with HIV, serving over half of all those diagnosed.


AIDS Quilt - John Winkler
May 2, 1990
Ivy League Professor John J. Winkler Dies

John “Jack” Winkler, who taught classics at Yale and Stanford, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 46.

Learn More.

Winkler’s 1989 book Auctor and Actor — which treats the Latin novel The Golden Ass as a detective story — was named best work of classical scholarship by the American Philological Association.  In addition to being a classical scholar, Winkler was also a queer the­o­rist and political activist.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1943,  Winkler attended a Jesuit high school, where he first learned Greek.  From 1960 to 1963, he stud­ied at St. Louis Uni­ver­sity, also a Jesuit insti­tu­tion.  Upon grad­u­at­ing, he joined the Bene­dic­tine reli­gious order, liv­ing first at St. Lawrence’s Abbey in Ampleforth, England, and then con­tin­u­ing at the St. Louis pri­ory.

In 1970, Winkler left the Bene­dictines and decided to pur­sue a career in clas­sics and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1974.  For the next five years, Winkler taught classics at Yale, where he became an advo­cate for fem­i­nist, gay, and minor­ity causes.  He helped to found Yale’s women’s stud­ies pro­gram, openly sup­ported the university’s Gay Alliance, and co-pro­duced an LGBT-themed radio show called Come Out Tonight.

In 1977, Winkler was the sole fac­ulty mem­ber to help orga­nize Yale’s first Gay Rights Week.  That same year, he was the only fac­ulty mem­ber to join a class-action law­suit brought by women stu­dents against Yale for its tol­er­ance of sex­ual harass­ment of stu­dents by fac­ulty.  Jack left Yale for Stanford in 1979, and con­tin­ued to be a lead­ing voice for gay stu­dents and fac­ulty.

Upon being diag­nosed with AIDS in August 1987, he announced a two-year sab­bat­i­cal.  He spent the last years of his life co-edit­ing essay col­lec­tions, trans­lat­ing frag­ments from Greek nov­els, and pub­lish­ing his most influ­en­tial work, Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece.  He donated half of the book’s income to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

He was the author of three books and 19 articles, many of them reinterpreting classical works.

May 21, 1990
ACT UP Protests NIH to Demand More HIV Treatment Options

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)  protests at the National Institutes of Health, demanding more HIV treatments and the expansion of clinical trials to include more women and people of color.

Learn More.

ACT UP protesters occupy the NIH campus, calling on scientists to develop more drugs for people with AIDS and the federal government to disseminate drugs equitably.

Promoted as “Storm the NIH,” the demonstration challenges the NIH to address the issue of growing numbers of women and people of color being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Days later, activist G. Harold Mehlman would write in The Washington Post, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease, the saying goes. I’m here to tell you that ACT UP and lots of others will be squeaking to the high heavens until drugs to save the lives of our citizenry affected with the HIV disease are made available.”

Their efforts convince policy makers to change regulations, which results in a new regimen of drugs used to treat AIDS made available in 1996.

AIDS Quilt - Demian Aquavella
June 8, 1990
NYC Dancer Demian ‘D-Man’ Acquavella Dies

Demian Acquavella, a dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Brooklyn.  He was 32 years old.

Learn More.

A popular figure in post-modernist dance in New York, Acquavella was the inspiration for the 1989 work D-Man in the Waters, a celebration of Acquavella’s determination to fight his illness.

Born in Brooklyn, Acquavella moved to California when he was twenty to major in dance at Santa Monica Community College.  He trained with Marjorie Mussman, Cindi Green, Ernie Pagnano and Phil Black, and also studied at the Nat Horne Musical Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.  He danced with Lillo Way, Elisa Monte, Miss Mussmann, the Rush Dance company, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater before joining the Jones-Zane troupe.

He became the central figure in Bill T. Jones’ pivotal work when the St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra commissioned Jones to choreograph a dance set to the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-Flat Major.  By then Acquavella was so sick, he had stopped dancing but he continued to stay close to the dance company.

“At first, Bill was going to call it just Waters,” Acquavella recalled.  “But then Bill looked over at me, and changed the title.  I will never forget Bill saying I would be in it, even though I could hardly walk.”

D-Man in the Waters had its premiere at the Joyce Theatre on March 14, 1989.

“As he could no longer walk by the time of the debut, I carried Demian onstage, offering my legs as he executed the arm movements of what would have been his solo,” Jones wrote.

After he was too ill to perform, he was known to attend performances and loudly cheer the dancers from his seat.

The work finds new life in the 2020 documentary Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters, directed by Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz.

When codirector LeBlanc was 16, she tells us on-screen in the documentary, she saw D-Man performed.  The experience inspired her to become a dancer — and to join Jones’ company.

Now on the dance faculty at Loyola Marymount University in California, LeBlanc chronicles in the film a production of D-Man that she staged with her undergraduate students.

In the documentary, Jones meditates on what the work means now.  In 1989, “It was a place to grieve,” he says.

But he believes D-Man is more than “a response to the plague”; it’s an enduring statement about survival and community.

June 20, 1990
Protestors Disrupt Int’l AIDS Conference in San Francisco

The 6th International AIDS Conference in San Francisco erupts in demonstrations, boycotts and dramatic disruptions in protest of U.S. immigration policies that bar people with HIV from entering the country.

Learn More.

“For me, the single most moving episode of the week took place at the conference, when a huge number of the delegates stood up and turned their back on [US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary] Louis Sullivan as he was speaking,” journalist Tim Kingston recalls in an interview with 48 Hills.

For the first time in history, a major policy address got hijacked at an International AIDS Conference.

“Then, all at once, they marched out of the Moscone Center and joined the Pride parade,” Kingston says. “That was such a powerful statement.”

Many of the demonstrations during the conference were organized by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), and brought attention to issues the conference failed to address, like the growing infection rate and the lack of treatment programs for women, people of color, and intravenous drug users.

Activists also protested laws against needle exchanges, the federal law forbidding HIV-positive people from entering the country, and the notable absence of President George Bush.

“Three hundred thousand dead from AIDS — Where is George?” chanted activist Peter Staley and other ACT UP members from a conference stage.  Soon, others in the packed auditorium joined them.

Bush refused two invitations to address the conference, Staley told UPI science writer Rebecca Kolberg.  Instead, the president attended a fundraiser for conservative senator Jesse Helms, who lead legislative efforts to restrict travel and employment of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

For five days, ACT UP stopped business as usual, reported CBS.  Members clogged downtown San Francisco, marching to the Immigration and Naturalization building at 630 Sansome Street to protest the travel and immigration ban for HIV-positive people.  Activists crashed convention events and disrupted speakers.  About 100 protesters were arrested outside the Marscone Center on the first day of the conference.

Even the co-chairman of the conference, John Ziegler, wore a red armband in solidarity with activists and held a moment of silence in support of those who boycotted the conference because of the travel ban.

July 6, 1990
Bay Area Comedian Jim Samuels Dies

Jim Samuels, winner of the 1982 San Francisco Comedy Competition, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.

Learn More.

Born in Oakland, Samuels was a popular comedian and sometime comedy teacher.  In the mid-1970, Samuels and then-comedy-partner Marty Cohen were regulars on Merv Griffin’s television show and several other variety programs.  In 1977, Samuels performed solo in a comedy skit on the TV show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and would embark on a solo career officially in the early 1980s.

Dubbed San Francisco’s Dean of Comedy by his friends and competitors, Samuels was also part owner of the Holy City Zoo club, a small but influential comedy club located at 408 Clement Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in San Francisco.

Samuels died at Garden Sullivan Hospital in San Francisco.

July 7, 1990
Brazilian Rock Star Cazuza Dies

Brazilian rock legend and heartthrob Cazuza dies from AIDS-related illness at his parents’ Ipanema home at the age of 32.

Learn More.

“Cazuza was forced to navigate his way through the trying social and medical realities of living with AIDS in Brazil during the 1980s,” according to Brazil: Five Centuries of Change by Thomas E. Skidmore.

Prior to the arrival of AIDS in Brazil in 1983, a sexual liberation had taken hold in the country’s major cities.  Because the first reported AIDS cases were that of gay men, it would be commonly referred to by Brazilians as a “gay cancer” or “gay plague,” and would cause widespread panic and fear.

“Cazuza would come to embody much of the conversation around (homo)sexuality and AIDS that would consume Brazil in the late 1980s,” Skidmore writes.  “Cazuza had relationships with both men and women. He made easy references to kissing girls and having girlfriends, but he neither ascribed to being gay per sé nor denied his interest in men… He would be able to defy the notion that AIDS was purely a gay man’s disease; though he slept with men, he was not necessarily identified, by himself or others, as gay.”

Mixing Bossa Nova music with 1960s British and American rock, he composed and recorded ″Cazuza,″ his first solo album in 1985, a record known for its biting, sarcastic tone and lyrics.

His song “Bete Balanço” 

Changing the ways in which HIV/AIDS were discussed and understood in Brazil, Cazuza demonstrated that people with AIDS could continue to be productive.  According to author and literary critic Marcelo Secron Bessa, Cazuza had become the “face” of AIDS in Brazil.

Cazuza dies in his sleep in his parents’ home in the beachfront neighborhood of Ipanema.

″Fortunately, he died without pain, sleeping,″ his father, Joao Araujo, director of one of the largest record companies in Brazil, would say on television.

Cazuza’s funeral at Sao Joao Batista Church in Rio’s Botofogo neighborhood would draw hundres of fans.

His mother Lucinha Araújo, would go on to create the ‘Sociedade Viva Cazuza’ [Viva Cazuza Society], to help people with AIDS.  A movie about Cazuza’s life would be released in 2004.

AIDS Quilt - Ethyl Eichelberger
August 12, 1990
Performer Ethyl Eichelberger Dies

Flamboyant actor Ethyl Eichelberger, who turned theatrical conventions upside down in their career as a performance artist, playwright and director, committs suicide.  Eichelberger was 45 years old.

Learn More.

Eichelberger was diagnosed with AIDS and chose to end their life on their own terms.  Their body was discovered in their Staten Island home by friends Lola Pashalinski and Linda Chapman.

Eichelberger was equally at ease playing characters male or female, including Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, King Lear, Medusa and Klytemnestra.

They wrote more than 30 plays, many of them marked by such Eichelberger trademarks as fire-eating, cartwheels and impromptu accordion concerts.


Eichelberger was born to Amish parents on July 17, 1945, and was named James Roy.  After studying theater at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, they attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and worked with Charles Ludlam and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

It was here where they perfected their flair for comedy and their craftmanship as a wig maker. In 1975, they legally changed their first name to Ethyl.

As their reputation grew, they began making forays into mainstream theater, doubling as the courtesan and the abbess in the Flying Karamazov Brothers production of ”The Comedy of Errors” at Lincoln Center.

Eichelberger played themself in Oliver Stone’s movie, ”The Doors.”

August 24, 1990
Bay Area AIDS Fundraiser David Lewis Dies

David Lewis, of the Harvey Milk AIDS Education Fund, dies of AIDS-related illness at his parents’ home in Vancouver, British Columbia.  He was 38.

Learn More.

From the late 1970s through the 1980s, Lewis lived in San Francisco, where he was an active member of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and served on the board of the Harvey Milk AIDS Education Fund, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

Lewis was also a member of the leather community and a founding member of The 15 Association of San Francisco.  He worked as a clinical counselor, income tax preparer, and smoking cessation program coordinator in the Bay Area until 1989, when he returned to his parents’ home in Vancouver upon the deterioration of his health.

Lewis’ body was cremated and his ashes were buried in Point Roberts Cemetery in Washington next to the remains of his partner, James Landsdowne, who died of AIDS-related illness in June 1989.

AIDS Quilt - Vito Russo 2
November 7, 1990
Film Historian Vito Russo Dies

Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44.

Learn More.

A film historian whose work was the first to examine the portrayal of LGBT people in film, television, and other media, Russo wrote The Celluloid Closet, the consummate reference book on homosexuality in the U.S. film industry.  Russo also was a key voice in the creation of both ACT UP-New York and the influential gay and lesbian media watchdog, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD.

Russo’s 1981 book chronicles the history of depictions of gay people in film, and it was made into an award-winning documentary (1995).  The book found its origins in movie nights Russo organized in the 1970s, when he combined the things he loved — community and cinema.

At the time, with the Stonewall riots a fresh memory, such gatherings were political acts.  Russo would screen a beloved movie and invite friends to watch — and soon the attendance grew to hundreds of gay people who would applaud favorite lines of dialogue and revel in queer subtext.  For many, these precursors of LGBTQIA+ film festivals were a first involvement in queer community.

Russo’s book The Celluloid Closet was published just as AIDS began its devastating march into the lives of many in the community.  Seeing entire circles of friends die, Russo returned to his activist roots and devoted himself to education, support and making as much noise as possible.

“Vito participated in every significant milestone in the gay liberation movement, from Stonewall to ACT UP,” said Jeffrey Schwarz, director of the documentary Vito (2011).  “He was right in the middle of everything, every step of the way.”

Among the many protests he helped stage that made headlines was one in which Russo and a group of activists descended on New York City officials for a mass marriage, complete with cakes topped by figures of same-sex couples — decades before gay marriage became a national issue and, in some states, legal.

In an homage to Russo, GLAAD recently developed the “Vito Russo Test,” a set of criteria to analyze how LGBTQ characters are included within a film.  To pass the Vito Russo Test, the following must be true:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender;
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, i.e., they are made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another; and
  • The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or set up a punchline. The character should “matter.”
AIDS Quilt - Ray Navarro
November 9, 1990
Video Artist-Activist Ray Navarro Dies

DIVA TV founder and Chicano activist Ray Navarro dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 26.

Learn More.

An active member of ACT UP, Navarro famously dressed as Jesus during a protest held on December 10, 1989 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  The demonstration called out the Roman Catholic Church’s position on abortion rights, gay rights, and safe sex education.

Already visibly sick, Navarro led protestors in chants (“We’re here to say, we want to go to heaven, too!”) and became the “camp superstar” of the documentary Like a Prayer, which covered the demonstration.  Navarro’s activism was also featured in the documentary How to Survive a Plague.

In 1989, Navarro was one of several ACT UP-New York members who founded DIVA TV, a gay and lesbian video activist collective that preserved some of ACT UP’s public displays of civil disobedience.  DIVA TV was an acronym for “Damned Interfering Video Activist Television.”  Founding members also included Bob Beck, Gregg Bordowitz, Jean Carlomusto, Rob Kurilla, Costa Pappas, George Plagianos, Catherine Saalfield, and Ellen Spiro.

DIVA created three notable video productions:

  • Target City Hall, about a March 28, 1989 ACT UP demonstration against New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s inadequate response to the AIDS crisis;
  • Pride on the 20th anniversary of the city’s gay and lesbian pride movement; and
  • Like A Prayer, five 7-minute perspectives on the ACT UP/WHAM (Women’s Health Action Mobilization) December 10, 1989 demonstration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In February 1990, Navarro presented an AIDS program at the CineFestival in San Antonio, Texas.  Shortly afterward, Navarro lost his vision due to cytomegalovirus retinitis, an AIDS-related complication.  Shortly before his death in November 1990, he partnered with artist Zoe Leonard to create Equipped, a series of black-and-white photographs of mobility devices paired with provocative phrases.

Posthumously, Navarro’s art was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and in Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.  Navarro’s mother, Patricia, became a member of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors HIV/AIDS Committee and speaks publicly about her son’s experiences.

In memory of Ray Navarro and Gerardo Velázquez, Harry Gamboa Jr. wrote the chapter “Light at the End of Tunnel Vision” for the 2018 book Latinx Writing Los Angeles: Nonfiction Dispatches from a Decolonial Rebellion.

December 1, 1990
‘Night Without Light’ Launches in NYC

The organization Visual AIDS presents its first Night Without Light, organizing cities nationwide to turn off their architectural lights for 15 minutes as visual reminder of the impact of AIDS.

Learn More.

“Night Without Light” was launched to coincide with Visual AIDS “Day Without Art” on World AIDS Day.  For fifteen minutes, from 7:45 to 8:00 p.m. on December 1st, the lights on Manhattan’s historic buildings, bridges, monuments and Broadway’s theatre marquees are turned off, including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, United Nations Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York Life Building, MetLife Tower,  Grand Central Terminal, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and George Washington Bridge among others — transforming the Manhattan skyline into a visual reminder of the impact of AIDS.

In future years, San Francisco would join New York City and also darken its skyline by turning off the architectural illumination on key landmarks as a symbolic reflection for the lives lost due to HIV.

Founded in 1988, Visual AIDS utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.  The contemporary arts organization is dedicated to raising AIDS awareness around HIV issues today, by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications — while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS.

The organization supports the preservation of the work of artists with HIV/AIDS and the artistic contributions of the AIDS movement.

February 7, 1991
Bay Area Dancer Antonio Mendes Dies

Dancer and choreographer Antonio Mendes — who performed as principal dancer or guest artist with the Pacific Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Marin Civic Ballet and the National Ballet of Portugal — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.

Learn More.

Mendez was also Director of the Redwood Empire Ballet.

AIDS Quilt - Lou Graydon Sullivan
March 2, 1991
Trans Author-Activist Lou Graydon Sullivan Dies

Lou Graydon Sullivan dies at the age of 39, the first transgender man to die of AIDS-related illness.

Learn More.

Sullivan was an activist and author known for his work on behalf of trans men.  A pioneer of the grassroots female-to-male (FTM) movement, he is largely responsible for the modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as distinct, unrelated concepts.

He founded FTM International, and his activism and community work was a significant contributor to the rapid growth of the FTM community during the late 1980s.

Born in 1951 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sullivan was raised in a very religious Catholic family.  At age 10, he started keeping a journal, describing his early childhood thoughts of being a boy, confusing adolescence, sexual fantasies of being a gay man, and his involvement in the Milwaukee music scene.

He continued to express confusion about his identity throughout his adolescence, writing at age 15, “I want to look like what I am, but don’t know what someone like me looks like.  I mean, when people look at me I want them to think — there’s one of those people … that has their own interpretation of happiness.  That’s what I am.”

By 1975, Sullivan identified himself as a “female-to-male transsexual,” and two years later, he moved from Milwaukee to San Francisco in the hopes he could find “more understanding” and access hormones for his transition.  He got a job with the Wilson Sporting Good Company, where he was employed as a woman but presented as a man much of the time.  In his personal life, Sullivan lived as an out gay man, but he was repeatedly denied gender affirmation surgery because of his sexual orientation.  At that time, transgender people were expected to adopt stereotypical heterosexual opposite-sex gender roles.  This rejection led Sullivan to start a campaign to remove homosexuality from the list of contraindications for gender affirmation surgery.

In 1979, at the age of 28, Sullivan was finally able to find doctors and therapists who would accept his sexuality.  He began taking testosterone and underwent a double mastectomy surgery the following year.  He started a new job as an engineering technician so that he could fully embrace his new identity as a man with new co-workers.

Shortly after undergoing genital reconstruction surgery in 1986, Sullivan was diagnosed as HIV positive and told he only had 10 months to live.  He wrote, “I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me I could not live as a Gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.”

In June 2019, Sullivan was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City.  In August 2019, Sullivan was one of the honorees inducted in the Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.

June 4, 1991
Thomas Hannan — Opera Singer & AIDS Activist — Dies

Thomas Hannan, co-founder of the first PWA buyers’ club, dies at his Manhattan home of AIDS-related illness.  He was 40 years old.

Learn More.

In the early 1980s, Hannan was in Europe pursuing a career as an opera singer, but returned to New York City when the AIDS crisis hit.  In 1986, he founded the Public Works Administration Health Group with Joseph Sonnabend and Michael Callen.

As the first and largest formally recognised buyers’ club, the PWA Health Group widened access to people with AIDS seeking AIDS therapies not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to Prabook.com.

Hannan also helped to establish the nonprofit Community Research Initiative (CRI, later renamed CRIA, then ACRIA) in New York in 1987, becoming the organization’s administrative director.  Frustrated and outraged by the slow pace of government-sponsored and academic HIV/AIDS research, members of CRI created the first-ever activist-led, community-based approach to the study of new treatments for the disease.

One of CRI’s early achievements was a trial that contributed to the approval of inhaled pentamidine for preventing Pneumocystis pneumonia, a common AIDS-related infection.  Since then, the organization has contributed to the development of a remarkable 20 medicines that have gone on to receive FDA approval.

July 30, 1991
San Francisco AIDS Activist Zach Long Dies

Zachary Long, a Bay Area activist celebrated for his ability to raise thousands of dollars for the HIV/AIDS cause, dies of AIDS-related illness at Davies Hospital at the age of 48.

Learn More.

“In the galaxy of activists in the San Francisco community, the name of Zach Long consistently glowed brilliantly and with a strong sense of caring, loving and perseverance,” wrote the Bay Area Reporter. “And while that glow is no longer visible, it will remain in the minds and hearts of all of us who were priviledged to know that handsomest of gentlemen.”

Long served on the board of directors for the Larkin Street Youth Center and the AIDS Emergency Fund.  He was also a ruling elder at the Old First Presbyterian Church and a volunteer for the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera.  He was voted “Man of the Year” at the 1991 Cable Car Awards in San Francisco.

In the leather community, Long was known as Zach Daddy Leather V, and was a semi-finalist in the 1988 International Mr. Leather competition.  Just a month before his death, he led the San Francisco Freedom Day Parade as the Grand Marshall.  In April, at the Mr. San Francisco Leather competition, San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos honored Long’s many accomplishments by proclaiming April 20 to be “Zach Long Day.”

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Long graduated from Davidson College with a Bachelor’s in Economics and then the University of North Carolina with a Master’s in Business Administration.  He served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in the Signal Corps, and was posted in Seoul, Korea.

Minority Groups Launch HIV Treatment Education Program

The National Minority AIDS Council, in cooperation with the National Association of People With AIDS and the National AIDS Interfaith Network, holds the National Skills Building Conference, which will later become the United States Conference on AIDS.

Learn More.

As the largest AIDS-related gathering in the country, the United States Conference on AIDS would draw thousands of attendees annually to share information, create new networks, and learn about the latest tools being used to address the challenges of HIV/AIDS.

Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC, planned and implemented the first three conferences, considered to be the first national HIV treatment education programs in the U.S.  Annual conference participants include healthcare and service providers, advocates, people living with HIV/AIDS, and policymakers.

September 5, 1991
ACT UP Contingent Launches Treatment Action Group

Members of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP New York split off to launch a new organization focused on accelerating treatment research.

Learn More.

The new group — called the  Treatment Action Group (TAG) — announced itself in spectacular fashion by staging an action at the home of Jesse Helms, a Republican Senator from North Carolina who New York Mayor Ed Koch called “a homophobic demagogue.” Helms was notoriously opposed to government funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention, and treatment and argued that AIDS was solely a result of gay men’s immoral conduct.

Using ladders, several TAG members climbed to the roof of the senator’s house, and from there they unfurled a giant piece of fabric, which was then inflated. Soon, the Helms home was completey encased in a giant, yellow condom reading “A condom to stop unsafe politics — Helms is deadlier than a virus.

The activists were detained briefly by police but were allowed to go free once they complied with the police order to remove the giant condom from the house.  Helms was not home at the time, but the incident succeeded in getting nationwide media attention, according to the History website.

The condom idea came from TAG’s founding director, Peter Staley, an HIV-positive, former Wall Street bond trader who had led ACT UP’s 1989 campaign to pressure pharmaceutical giant Burroughs Wellcome to lower the price of AZT.

Prior to founding TAG, Staley and other members of ACT UP’s Treatment and Data Committee (many of whom were HIV positive) learned how to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians.  They used the skills they learned in ACT UP to work effectively with government scientists, drug company researchers, and FDA officials on speeding up the development of new HIV therapies.  In fact, many scientists and government officials were impressed with the level of knowledge these activists had.

In a 2013 interview with Martha Henry of the Harvard AIDS Initiative, Staley expressed regret that they weren’t able to keep TAG within ACT UP.  At the time, the split seemed inevitable because the Treatment and Data Committee wanted to work in tandem with government researchers and drug companies, while the more radical members of ACT UP viewed federal research programs and the pharmaceutical industry as an oppressive, slow-moving entity in need of prodding.

With the condom action, Staley hoped that ACT UP radicals would see that they could still employ theatrical, attention-getting actions while working with the scientists seeking better treatments.

But TAG would go its own way and, as separate entities, ACT UP and TAG would both be very effective in pushing the federal government to fund research into new and better treatments for HIV and AIDS.

Following the approval of several effective antiretroviral drugs in 1995, TAG would be successful in persuading the government to work with the pharmaceutical industry on research that would identify long-term effects of the new HIV therapies.

In 2002, TAG would raise awareness about the impact that tuberculosis was having on people with HIV in the developing world. In 2007, the organization would receive a $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to foster increased international advocacy on TB/HIV research and treatment.

In 2012, Staley would become a leading subject in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, and he would become a 2016 Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.  Staley’s memoirs of his activism and advocacy, Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism, would be published in October 2021.

“The plague that killed a generation of gay men cannot be forgotten, and Peter saw it all from the front lines,” CNN reporter Anderson Cooper writes in the forward of Staley’s book.  “He wasn’t the only one, but he was a key member of a brave group of people who stood up and fought back so that others, you and I, might live and be free.”

Staley would also co-found the PrEP4All Collaboration, whose mission is to make HIV medication available to everyone who needs it, and the COVID-19 Working Group – New York.

AIDS Quilt - Belinda Mason
September 9, 1991
‘Well, bye-bye y’all’: Activist Belinda Mason Dies

Belinda Mason, the only AIDS-infected member of the National Commission on AIDS and a critic of President George H.W. Bush, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 33.

Learn More.

Infected with the AIDS virus in 1987 from a blood transfusion during the birth of her second child, Mason is known for being the commission member most unafraid to speak out against the Bush administration for treating AIDS as a moral issue rather than as a public-health issue.

She is also known as a strong voice among people with AIDS who are angry that AZT is the only AIDS drug approved by the U.S.

Mason refused to distinguish between what sanctimonious politicians called the “innocent victims” of HIV and the rest of those living with the disease.  Yet she was aware of her priviledge, telling the press that Bush appointed her because, ″I was perfect. I was Southern, I was white, I was articulate and I got AIDS in a nice way.″

Before becoming ill, Mason worked as a reporter for the Appalachian News Express in Pikeville and the Hartford Times News, both Kentucky weeklies.  She also wrote short stories.

Mason, originally of Whitesburg, Ky., founded Kentuckiana People With AIDS, the first Kentucky-based group dedicated to fighting for a cure. She also was a member of the AIDS Action Council, a national AIDS lobbying group.

She spent untold hours with Kentuckians, listening, laughing, educating, telling stories and being a lifeline for rural HIVers, according to Kate Black in her profile on Mason in POZ magazine.

She was president of the National Association of People With AIDS when Bush appointed her in 1989 to the commission created by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Right before Belinda Mason died at the age of 32, she told her family, “Well, bye-bye y’all.”

In 2016, the legislature of the State of Kentucky would honor Mason with a resolution to “reflect on the many accomplishments Belinda Mason made as a notable woman in Kentucky’s history.”

“For her uncommon courage in the face of death, for all that she accomplished as an AIDS
advocate during a time in this country when it was unpopular to do so, and for being a
daughter of this great Commonwealth,” the resolution states, “this honorable body posthumously honors her for her many contributions to human rights on Women’s History Month.”

September 26, 1991
Navy Vet & Leatherman Robert Douty Dies

Robert L. Douty, a Navy veteran who specialized in electronics, dies of AIDS-related illness at Laguna Honda Hospice at the age of 37.

Learn More.

Douty served in the U.S. Navy in 1972-1978 as an electronic standards specialist on the USS Dixie and the USS Oriskany.  After his military service, he continued to work in electronics at Ford Aerospace until his illness forced him to retire in 1987.

A respected member of the leather community, Douty was an early member of The 15 Association, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

September 29, 1991
California AB101 Veto Sparks Protests in LA and SF

Infuriated by Gov. Pete Wilson’s veto of a major gay rights bill, California activists launch a wave of demonstrations that brand the governor “a liar” who betrayed a cause he had pledged to support.

Learn More.

Demonstrators gathered at the Westwood Federal Building in Los Angeles in the morning and the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in downtown LA in the afternoon. Protesters splattered red liquid on the state building and broke a heavy glass door before disbanding after a standoff with police.  Two demonstrators were arrested.

That evening, about 2,000 whistle-blowing, chanting demonstrators gathered in West Hollywood, where they torched a California state flag and burned Wilson in effigy.  The protesters then marched from West Hollywood to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard, where Wilson was attending an event.

When the activists arrived at the museum, they shouted, “Civil rights or civil war!”

Later, about 150 demonstrators gathered at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, where Wilson was a guest.  A man and a woman were arrested on suspicion of assault after protesters rushed the hotel’s front entrance and knocked down a helmeted police officer.

In San Francisco, angry protesters marched from San Francisco’s Castro District to the State building in Civic Center, where Gov. Wilson had an office.  The situation took a violent turn when the front doors were smashed and offices were set on fire.  The Bay Area Reporter described protestors kicking in glass doors and causing over $150,000 in damages to the building.  This would become known as the “AB 101 Veto Riot.”

The demonstrations go on for about three weeks, and transformed thousands of people into activists. Some people were out every night.

“Probably the biggest demonstration started at San Vicente and went west on Sunset to UCLA, where we disrupted an outdoor speech being given by Wilson,” recalled Steve Martin, who was President of the Stonewall Democratic Club at the time.  “The police said there were 5,000 in the streets; it looked closer to 10,000 to me.  As we marched back to West Hollywood, Sunset looked like a river of demonstrators.”

AB 101 would have prevented job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Gov. Wilson, a moderate Republican, initially promised to sign such legislation into law, but reversed his decision after his office received complaints from anti-gay activists.

“We were blatantly lied to, and we are angry,” John J. Duran, co-chair of the Lobby for Individual Freedom and Equality, told the Los Angeles Times.  Duran said Wilson promised to support anti-discrimination legislation in meetings with gay activists during his gubernatorial campaign.

About one year later, California AB 101 was passed by state legislature and signed by signed by Pete Wilson.

November 27, 1991
Paul Martin Heltsley — San Francisco Writer-Editor — Dies

Paul Martin Heltsley, a writer for Drummer and other leather-related magazines, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco.  He was 29 years old.

Learn More.

Heltsley, who wrote under the name Paul Martin, was an assistant editor at Drummer magazine and often led workshops at QSM and San Francisco State Unviversity.  He was one of the founders of San Francisco Leather Bears and a member of the National Leather Association and the Phoenix Uniform Club.

Heltsley also composed music in a variety of genres, including jazz, punk and electronica.  Prior to moving to San Francisco in 1988, he performed in a punk band in Seattle.

“He cared passionately about the physical , psychological and spiritual implications of Leather and SM,” Heltsley’s partner, Roy Cameron, told the Bay Area Reporter.

“As an expression of his deep personal love of the people in his life, and his desire not to have his friends worry about him, Paul remained silent, even to the end, as to the seriousness of his illness,” Camerson said.

A tree was planted in the AIDS Memorial Grove at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as a permanent tribute to Heltsley.

AIDS Quilt - Stan Hadden
December 2, 1991
Sacramento Activist Stan Hadden Dies

Stan Hadden, a senior administrative aide to California Senate President Pro Tempore David A. Roberti and one of the most influential voices on AIDS policy in Sacramento, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35.

Learn More.

As fierce fighter for HIV/AIDS policy for 10 years, Haddon is credited with shepharding the creation of the California AIDS Advisory Committee in 1983 and writing legislation supporting a coordinated approach to local HIV/AIDS programs and services in 1985.

According to Stephen Colbrook’s paper “Clandestine Networks and Closeted Bureaucrats: AIDS and the Forming of a Gay Policy Network in California,” Haddon was a key player among policymakers who jumped into action when the AIDS crisis unfolded.  When Hadden learned that a new deadly disease was spreading through San Francisco’s gay community, he brought the epidemic to the attention of his boss, David Roberti, who was the president of the California senate.

Colbrook wrote:

“Hadden quickly emerged as a pivotal figure in California’s response to the AIDS crisis. He was affable, forthright, and pragmatic, burnishing a well-deserved reputation as the AIDS Tsar of California.  By 1987, his monthly AIDS newsletter had 25,000 subscribers, and his correspondence reached beyond California to activists in Texas, Illinois, and New York.”

Sen. Roberti provided Hadden with a significant degree of autonomy, with which Hadden used to craft a large portion of California’s early AIDS legislation, including Senate Bill 1215, which expanded the state budget for prevention education by $11 million.  Passed in 1985 by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the Assembly and Senate at a time when budget funds were thin, SB 1215 cemented California’s leading role in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis.  In 1985, nearly half of the total state spending on the AIDS epidemic was attributed to California, according to Colbrook.

Hadden’s leadership also throughout the 1980s also helped steer California’s action on the epidemic toward a focus on patient confidentiality and individual rights.  This focus was not always adopted by other states in their approach to the AIDS crisis.  On the other end of the spectrum was Texas, whose political leaders created policy centered on the disease’s perceived threat to the heterosexual population.

Hadden was one of only a few in the 1980s Sacramento political scene who were open about their LGBT identity, journalist Karen Ocamb would later write in The Pride.  Scores of administrative and political aides to California legislators remained in the closet, fearful that open knowledge of their sexual identity would end their professional careers.  Elected officials and potential candidates who identified as LGBT also remained silenced by the very real fear of ruination.

In the final two weeks of his life, Hadden received round-the-clock nursing care as part of a hospice program.  Sacramento AIDS Foundation spokeswoman Patty Blomberg noted that the AIDS care Hadden received might not have existed if it were not for his influence and persistence.

Blomberg told the Sacramento Bee that Hadden had slipped into a coma early that morning and then died at about noon at his farmhouse along the Sacramento River, surrounded by friends and family who had flown in from as far away as Michigan.

Hadden’s funeral would bring in friends and colleagues from around the state, including Ocamb and John Duran, then President of the Board of LIFE AIDS Lobby who would become Mayor of the City of West Hollywood.

“In a gesture unheard of for the suits of Sacramento, a huge rainbow flag was unfurled and solemnly marched down the street to the Capitol,” Ocamb recalled.

“Stan’s memory will go on, because he made a contribution to this state that many of us can only dream of making,” Senate President Pro Tem Roberti said during Hadden’s memorial service at St. Francis Church in midtown Sacramento.

December 8, 1991
Kimberly Bergalis — Focus of Testing Debate — Dies

Kimberly Bergalis, who stirred a national debate over AIDS testing when she became the first known case of contracting the virus from a health care worker, died of AIDS-related illness at her home in Fort Pierce, Florida at the age of 23.

Learn More.

Bergalis became the poignant symbol of a scientific mystery and a continuing debate over the risk of infection in health care settings and what to do about it.

Bergalis’ infection with the AIDS virus was traced to her dentist, Dr. David J. Acer of Stuart, Florida.  Acer, who continued practicing dentistry several years after learning he was infected with HIV, told health investigators that he did not believe he had infected anyone.

However, testing of hundreds of his patients found four more who were infected with the same strain of HIV as his and who reportedly had no other risks for the disease.  Experts still question how those infections occurred, with the most common theory beging that Acer bled from a cut in his hands or used instruments that had punctured his skin or were not sterilized after use on another infected patient.

What finally convinced health officials that Acer was responsible for Bergalis’ infection with HIV was a laboratory analysis of the virus, whose mutations produce varied strains, showing that the samples from Acer and Bergalis were virtually identical.  Bergalis sued Acer’s estate for $1 million and also received an undisclosed sum from his insurance company. But her crusade continued.

“Someone who has AIDS and continues to practice is nothing better than a murderer,” said George Bergalis, Kimberly’s father.  The Bergalis family also urged testing of patients to protect doctors.

A few months before her death, Kimberly Bergalis was wheeled into a Capitol hearing room so she could state her support for a bill to test both medical professionals and patients.

“I did not do anything wrong, yet I am being made to suffer like this,” she whispered. “My life has been taken away. Please enact legislation so that no other patient or health care provider will have to go through the hell that I have.”

Some said that Bergalis stirred unwarranted panic and that her case diverted attention from the far more common spread of the disease by unprotected sex and the sharing of tainted needles by IV drug users.

Spurred by the public uproar, the Federal Centers for Disease Control proposed barring infected health workers from procedures in which HIV might be transmitted.  But the legislation stalled, and the centers backed off under opposition from state and local health officials, medical societies and advocates for AIDS patients.

Opponents of the proposed regulation argued that the Florida case remained an anomaly, that thousands of patients of other doctors with HIV were tested and found uninfected, and that new rules were not needed.  They said the proposals would unfairly destroy the careers of infected health workers and waste millions of dollars that would be better spent on other AIDS preventives.

AIDS Quilt - Tina Chow
January 24, 1992
Fashion Icon Tina Chow Dies

Jewelry designer and activist Tina Chow dies of AIDS-related illness in Pacific Palisades, California at the age of 41.

Learn More.

Born Bettina Louise Lutz, the supermodel, jewellery designer and fashion collector, was married to restaurateur Michael Chow in 1972 and became known professionally as Tina Chow.  In the 1970s, she was featured prominently in advertising campaigns for the Japanese cosmetic line Shiseido.

“Chow broke the mold of being a model with an androgynous look and a distinctly chic fashion sensibility that gave her notoriety,” writes artist Maxwell N. Burnstein in his tribute to her on the Council of Fashion Designers of America website.

Karl Lagerfeld credits Chow as the inventor of minimal chic, and Kate Moss considers her to be her style icon.  Recognized as having a profound influence on the styles of her era, Chow was initiated into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1985.

The same year, Helmut Newton took a portrait photograph of Chow and her husband in which their power dynamics are made evident.

“In the photograph, the two are separated, physically, by the counter of a bar,” writes Cynthia Cruz in The Critical Flame.  “He standing in dark glasses, holding a glass in his hand, staring at her while she is on the other side, in a long white dress, her eyes made dark with make-up, tied to the bar with rope.”

In the mid-1980s, Chow began to find the non-stop party lifestyle tiresome, and was encouraged by artist Andy Warhol to turn her attention to jewellery design. She incorporated stones and crystals associated with healing properties into bamboo and used traditional Japanese basket weaving techniques to follow the shapes of uncut stones.

“Chow’s pieces of jewelry are unusual, neither delicate or what one might usually consider ‘beautiful,'” writes Cynthia Cruz in her tribute to Chow.  “Instead, the pieces are solid, anchored.”

The piece for which Chow is best known is her Kyoto Bracelet, constructed of black bamboo with seven rose quartz pebbles inside.

Around this time, Chow also deepened her commitment to AIDS charity work.  In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, she explained, “I lost several friends to AIDS, and I felt my life slipping away while I continued to party.”

She also separated from her husband and embarked on a series of affairs, first with a film star who introduced her to Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama, and later with the French aristocrat Kim D’Estainvillle.

In 1989, Chow and her husband divorced.  Five months later, she learned that she was HIV positive.  Chow refused to take any of the medicine her Western doctors recommended.  Instead, she opted for a holistic approach, attempting to heal herself with crystals, macrobiotics, teas, and similar somatic modes of healing.

After Chow had made her illness public, she continued to work with AIDS organizations, including Project Angel Food.  She ultimately lost her life from complications from AIDS at her home in Pacific Palisades on January 24, 1992.

March 23, 1992
Lavender Hill Mob’s Martin Robinson Dies

Martin Robinson, a long-time organizer for gay-rights causes who was known for his provocative protests, died of AIDS-related illness at his Brooklyn home at the age of 49.

Learn More.

Robinson was present at the 1969 police raid of the Stonewall, a Greenwich Village bar patronized by members of the LGBTQ community.

Such raids were common, but for the first time, the customers resisted and fought back.  Shortly afterward, 2,000 attended a rally in Sheridan Square, where Robinson was a keynote speaker.

An early member of the Gay Activists Alliance, many activists considered Robinson a visionary during the early years of AIDS activism.

One of his mantras was, if it’s not medicine, it’s murder,” activist Bill Bahlman would tell the Act Up Oral History Project in 2010. “He taught me things like it doesn’t matter whether you’re Rock Hudson or a person living on the street, homeless.  If you don’t have effective treatments for HIV, you’re going to die.”

In the early 1980s, Robinson headed GLAAD’s Swift and Terrible Retribution Committee, planning demonstrations and developing political “zaps,” chaotic and theatrical interventions intended to attract the attention of the press.

When the Centers for Disease Control planned its 1987 conference in Atlanta with a focus on mandatory testing for HIV, Robinson led activists from his group, the Lavender Hill Mob, into the ballroom of the Marriott Marquis, where a pre-conference cocktail party was being held for attendees.

Activists passed out fliers to the startled participants with the message, “What does CDC stand for? Center for Detention Camps!”

During the three days of the conference, Robinson and the Lavender Hill Mob appeared in various meeting locations with leaflets and noisy chants: “Test drugs, not people!” and “Drugs into bodies now!”

Robinson was also a founder of ACT UP, which was started in New York in the wake of the Lavender Hill Mob’s success. Modeled on the tactics of the Lavender Hill Mob, ACT UP’s approach was bold and headline-grabbing — and effective.

Perhaps one of Robinson’s most important “zaps” was the one at the National Institutes of Health in May 1990, around the time that North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms was trying to block a $600 million AIDS relief bill.

ACT UP members from all over the country descended on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, setting off smoke bombs and yelling that NIH policies were killing them.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the NIH’s drive to end AIDS, invited several ACT UP leaders inside and listened to them. What he learned brought about the Accelerated Approval process that helped get “drugs into bodies now,” as the ACT UP slogan demanded.

The Marty Robinson Collection of papers and records are currently stored at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York.


March 24, 1992
Activist Clinton Hockenberry Dies

Clinton C. Hockenberry, an activist for gay and lesbian rights and on behalf of AIDS patients, died of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco at the age of 41.

Learn More.

A resident of Washington D.C. from 1975 to 1985, Hockenberry was president and executive director of Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, executive co-director of the 1983 National AIDS Vigil, and a founder of the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Langston Hughes/Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club.

While attending Georgetown University Law Center, Hockenberry was president of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Coalition, which successfully sued for recognition from the university.

Hockenberry was executive director and chief lobbyist of the Greater Washington Americans for Democratic Action from 1982 to 1984. From 1985 until his retirement, he was executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, a public-interest legal service in San Francisco. He was editor and writer of AIDSLaw, a manual of legal services for persons with HIV infection.  He won awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the State Bar of California for his AIDS work.

AIDS Quilt - Edward Riney
West Hollywood Activist Edward Riney Dies

Edward Riney, member of the East End Community Action group in West Hollywood, dies of AIDS-related illness.

Learn More.

Riney was well-known in the West Hollywood community as a civically engaged resident who worked tirelessly to improve public safety in the early days of West Hollywood’s cityhood.

He served on the neighborhood watch group on the city’s east side and established himself as a commentator for the Los Angeles Times for local public safety initiatives, such as the passage of a “no camping” law for city parks and removing from Plummer Park a meal program for people experiencing homelessness.

At the April meeting of the City Council, then-Mayor Paul Koretz announced that he would adjourn the meeting in memory of Riney.  A moment of silence was also held in Riney’s honor.

At the meeting, longtime resident Jeanne Dobrin spoke of Riney’s dedication to crime prevention and said she appreciated his sense of humor.  In addition, resident Gloria Vassy talked about how Riney organized an annual food basket drive during the holidays.

On April 25, the community held a memorial service for Riney in Plummer Park.  The following December, the holiday food basket drive was organized in memory of Riney; 150 food baskets were assembled and given out to those in need.

May 30, 1992
Robert Pruzan — Bay Area Photographer — Dies

Robert Pruzan, longtime photographer for the Bay Area Reporter who also created photographic art, dies of AIDS-related illness at Davies Medical Center in San Francisco.  He was 45 years old.

Learn More.

Pruzman documented the queer history of San Francisco throughout the 1970s and 1980s, according to Gary Aylesworth of the Bay Area Reporter. His work was published in Drummer, Manifest, Sports Illustrated, and the San Francisco Examiner’s Image magazine, as well as in Geoff Mains’ book Urban Aboriginals.

“Although he worked in photojournalism for years, his fine art photography is brilliant and important,” wrote Aylesworth.  “There are, perhaps, a quarter of a million slides in his collection.”

Born in 1946 in Seattle, Pruzman studied mime in Paris with Etienne Decroux in the 1960s.  As Decroux’s first assistant, he taught mime to many who would become notable performers, like Bill Irwin  , Geoff Hoyle, and Leonard Pitt.  He returned to the U.S. and taught mime in New York City.

Pruzman took an interest in floral arranging after taking a class in Japanese ikebana, and in 1973, he moved to San Francisco, where he began working as a horticulturist and photographer.  Advancing his parallel interests, he became a member of the California Horticultural Society and photographed the first Haight Street Fair in May 1978.  He also photographed the Castro Street Fair, early Pride Parades, and the Folsom and Up Your Alley Fairs through 1991.

In addition to documenting San Francisco’s gay and leather communities, Pruzman regularly photographed opera stars like Pavorotti and drag artists like Divine.  Harvey Milk, Wavy Gravy, Nancy Pelosi, Jane Dornacker, Robert Mapplethorpe — all were captured by Purzman’s camera.

Friends told the Bay Area Reporter that Pruzman’s apartment was filled with exotic plants. He curated many gardens throughout the Bay Area, and longtime friend Nancy McNally said Pruzman inspired her to create the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, which would open about a month after Pruzman’s death with a memorial service and planting in his honor.

LA Needle Exchange
June 30, 1992
ACT UP LA Launches Clean Needles Now

Consisting of a small group of activists within ACT UP Los Angeles, the Clean Needles Now (CNN) program launches its first exchange in the predominantly Latinx immigrant neighborhood of MacArthur Park.

Learn More.

The controversial program — intended to help stop the spread of HIV infection and give people the tools they needed to make informed decisions about their own health — started after a year of careful research and planning.  Founding members educated fellow activists, organized resources, and stockpiled clean needles and other supplies; member Renée Edgington secured a decommissioned postal truck, out of which they would run the program.

ACT UP LA adopted the needle exchange committee as an official project in January 1992, and the group created CNN as a service provider with a distinctly activist spirit.  Unlike the community-based AIDS services that defined the first wave of AIDS organizing in the early 1980s, needle exchange was itself an act of civil disobedience.

Drug paraphernalia laws made the possession and distribution of syringes a crime, and rarely distinguished between distributing rigs and selling drugs.  Emboldened by the use of health emergency declarations in San Francisco and other cities and bolstered by support from West Hollywood civil rights attorney John Duran, the CNN activists believed they had the law on their side.

“When beat cops came sniffing around, the group closely adhered to a script describing themselves as HIV outreach workers,” said Dont Rhine in his article, “Below the Skin: AIDS Activism and the Art of Clean Needles Now.”.

Eventually, CNN split off from ACT UP, so it could obtain funding as an independent service provider.  And then, in early 1995, under Renée Edgington’s leadership, CNN boldly opened a storefront on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.  Los Angeles City Councilmember Jackie Goldberg helped CNN obtain the space, fending off detractors with the explanation that a storefront would get the needle exchange program off the streets.

Christened “Harm Reduction Central” (HRC), the storefront extended its program, offering a range of health services and cultural activities for Hollywood’s homeless and runaway youth in addition to providing syringe exchange.  HRC offered an appealing space where street youth and users could hang out casually.

“One of the main purposes I saw in the storefront, in contrast with what the street exchange had been doing, was that Harm Reduction Central wanted to pull in all those Hollywood kids.  Teen homelessness was so prevalent at the time,” said Kim Abeles, a close friend of Edgington.

In spite of its split from the mother ship, CNN retained much of ACT UP’s activist DNA with its storefront programs.

“CNN adhered to a similar AIDS cultural analysis around the politics of representation regarding drug users,” recalled Dont Rhine.  “CNN’s primary demands to city and county governments were that they provide the legal protections for needle exchange to exist, and that they offer funding and interconnection of services so that CNN could do the job itself.  Beyond this, the fundamental political demand of CNN was the end of drug prohibition (i.e. legalization).”

In the early 2000s, gentrification pressures in Hollywood forced CNN out of its lease on the Cahuenga Boulevard space.  Over the years, the needle-exchange program was housed out of various non-profit organizations and eventually morphed into the Los Angeles Community Health Project’s Syringe Service Program.

Today, CHPLA’s Syringe Service Program reaches nearly 10,000 people and distributes more than 1.1 million sterile syringes a year.  In 2020, the program provided participants and community members across LA County with 10,778 Naloxone kits and, of those kits, 3,701 were used to successfully respond to an overdose.

August 5, 1992
Activist & Fundraiser Randall Klose Dies

Randall Klose, longtime gay-rights activist and fund-raiser, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Washington, DC.  He was 37.

Learn More.

Klose said he had been inspired to become an activist by Larry Kramer’s essay “1,112 and Counting” in The New York Native in 1983.  In that essay, Kramer demanded to know why wealthy homosexuals were not responding to the AIDS crisis.

“I read the article, and said to myself, ‘Here I am,'” Klose said.

At the time, Klose was a Beverly Hills developer with strong connections to the LGBTQ community.  He started raising money for the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Los Angeles (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center) and the Triangle Institute.

On June 1, 1987, Klose was among those arrested at a White House demonstration protesting the lack of an AIDS response from President Reagan.

He then helped organize and finance lobbying efforts for the 1988 AIDS research and education law, a cornerstone of the comprehensive federal AIDS effort.  He later became co-chairman of the Human Rights Campaign Fund’s board of directors, and helped the fund’s budget grow from $1 million to $5 million in a few years.

In 1991, Klose helped lead a U.S. contingent to the meeting of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission in Moscow, one of the first publicized gatherings of LGBTQ people in Russia.

Klose contributed much of his own wealth to organizations conducting HIV/AIDS research and providing social services.  In addition to his earnings as a developer, his wealth included an inheritance from his father, who owned Dairy Queen franchise in Texas, with 800 outlets.

Alison Gertz
August 8, 1992
AIDS Awareness Advocate Alison Gertz Dies

Alison Gertz, who said she contracted the AIDS virus during her first sexual encounter at age 16 – and who publicized her misfortune to show that anyone can be at risk – dies at her parents’ home on Long Island at the age of 26.

Learn More.

Gertz drew international attention by telling her story as a warning to heterosexuals and women.  A television movie based on her diaries and starring Molly Ringwald, Something To Live For, raised awareness about HIV/AIDS with millions of TV viewers.  An HIV/AIDS information hotline that ran after the film generated a record 189,251 calls within 24 hours, mostly from women

When Gertz first publicly told her story, in an interview with The New York Times in 1989, the AIDS epidemic was widely perceived as confined to homosexual men, intravenous drug abusers and blood-transfusion recipients.

She fit none of those categories. Her story was all the more dramatic because of the privilege she was born into, with artistic talent, affluence, private schools and social prominence.

Following her diagnosis, Gertz became a crusader, speaking at schools, colleges and public events.  Esquire named her Woman of the Year, and she appeared on the cover of People magazine.

The People article describes Gertz as “pretty, poised and privileged,” but with a forever-changed future due to her AIDS diagnosis.  Gertz shares with the reporter her goal of warning young people about the risk of unprotected sex and stopping what happened to her from happing to others.

“They might not listen to their parents or pay attention to the news,” she told People, “but they might understand it coming from me because I’m one of them.”

When she was well enough, Gertz lectured at high schools and colleges.

An only child, Gertz was born in Manhattan and grew up on Park Avenue. Her father, the grandson of a founder of Gertz department stores, is a real-estate investor. Her mother cofounded a national chain of fashion stores, Tennis Lady.

Educated at Horace Mann School, Ms. Gertz studied art at Parsons School of Design. At 22, she was beginning a career as an illustrator.

“I was just, as they say, starting out in life,” she said, with hopes of marriage and children.

Gertz’s mother Carol also became an advocate for HIV treatment and research.  In 1989, two close friends helped Carol Gertz start the nonprofit organization Concerned Parents for AIDS Research (CPFA), with the hope of developing a cure.

Initially supported by a circle of longtime friends, the network of fund-raisers soon expanded to include others whose lives had been upended by the virus — and those who realized that their children were also at risk.

Following the death of her daughter, Carol Gertz would go onto launch Love Heals in 1992 as a way to empower youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS through prevention education and leadership development training.  The project is meant to address stigma and help young adults have conversations about sexuality.

August 12, 1992
Alexis Sorel — Radical Faerie from Columbia — Dies

Alexis Sorel, a respected leatherman who migrated to the U.S. from Columbia in the early 1970s, dies of AIDS-related illness in the mountain city of Manizales, Columbia.  He was 55 years old.

Learn More.

Sorel identified with the radical faerie movement, particularly with faeries with “black leather wings,” according to the Bay Area Reporter.  His spiritual beliefs were rooted in the sense of sacredness and ritual that he brought to his leather play.

Born in 1937 in Manizales, Columbia, Sorel migrated to New York City in the mid ’50s.  A job with Bank of America brought him to San Francisco in the early 1970s and he remained in the city for almost 20 years.

In 1980, he helped to found The 15 Association in San Francisco, and two years later, he became a U.S. citizen, an achievement he was particularly proud of.  He returned to his family home in Manizales, Columbia when his health began to deteriorate, saying he would die where he was born, “within the shadow of a volcano.”

Mary Fisher
August 19, 1992
HIV+ Activist Mary Fisher Speaks at RNC

Not long after her own HIV diagnosis, Mary Fisher addresses the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston’s Astrodome.

Learn More.

Seen by many as a sharp rebuke of her party’s negligence in the face of the growing AIDS epidemic, Fisher’s speech — titled “A Whisper of AIDS” — moved many in the convention hall and those watching her televised speech from home to tears.

A mother of two young children and a former staffer in President Gerald Ford’s administration, Fisher called for members of her party and policymakers to be compassionate and “lift our shroud of silence.”

“Adolescents don’t give each other cancer or heart disease because they believe they are in love, but HIV is different; and we have helped it along,” she told party members.  “We have killed each other with our ignorance, our prejudice, and our silence.”

Her message was embraced by many, regardless of their political affiliation.

Four years later, she would address the RNC again.  She would also found the Mary Fisher Clinical AIDS Research and Education (CARE) Fund at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as well as become a representative for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Many years later, broadcaster Rachel Maddow would call Fisher’s speech “incredibly eloquent and poignant,” and “one of the top speeches in the 20th century.”

And Fisher would write in her blog about ending each day with watching The Rachel Maddow Show , enjoying Maddow’s “casual intimacy in her conversational style,” and appreciating her “genuine insight based on knowledge.”

Recently, Fisher claimed she shares a “political legacy” with Maddow.

“Asked once what it meant to be a ‘liberal,’ [Maddow] said it was simple: ‘It means I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican Party platform,'” Fisher wrote in February 2022. ”Me, too.”

September 6, 1992
Mr. International Leather of 1983 Dies

Coulter “Colt” Thomas, winner of numerous leather comptetions, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco at the age of 33.

Learn More.

After winning the title of Mr. International Leather at the age of 23, Thomas spent the following year travelling extensively to cities across the U.S., Canada and Europe for promotional appearances, and managed to still maintain above-average grades at the University of Texas, where he was attending medical school.

Upon graduation, Thomas and his partner, Charley Smith, moved to Detroit for his residency in radiology, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

In 1986, Smith was diagnosed with AIDS and broke off the relationship with Thomas, which devastated him.  He remained in his residency for another year and then, upon being diagnosed as HIV+, relocated from Detroit to San Francisco.  While in San Francisco, Thomas worked for a video producer for gay events as a contractor’s assistant and occasionally made appearances as Mr. Leather at fundraising events.

November 10, 1992
Bisexual Activist David Lourea Dies

David Lourea, an activist who appeared on local and national TV advocating for bisexual rights, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 37.

Learn More.

As an early co-director of the Bisexual Center in San Francisco, Lourea helped to raise awareness nationwide of bisexuality as an identity.  This increased awareness among the public led many media outlets to promote the idea that bisexuality was a “trend.”  Lourea’s response to this was:

“Well, you know, it’s real nice that my sexual orientation is in fashion right now, but when it’s not in fashion, it’s still going to be my sexual orientation.”

Lourea was raised in Philadelphia as Orthodox Jewish, and he continued to explore religion and faith throughout this life.  He earned a BFA from Temple University in 1967, and later earned a PhD from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.

After moving to the Bay Area in 1973, he became involved in San Francisco Sex Information, an organization founded that year by bisexual activist Maggi Rubenstein, along with Margo Rila and Tony Ayers.  Lourea was also one of the early members of the Bisexual Center, which was also founded by Rubenstein to “serve as a positive support base to facilitate communication, to teach each other by sharing … learning, and to explore the essence and potential of loving” for bisexuals.

At the Bisexual Center’s first meeting, 22 attendees established a steering committee and within six months, the Bi Center’s membership grew to about 140.  In early 1977, the organization sponsored about 15 events each month, including discussion groups, gender workshops and social outings.

According to trans bisexual activist Verity Ritchie, “The Bi Center team was made up of quite politically radical bisexuals and had a policy of inclusion.  All human rights were important to them.  They were feminist, anti-racist, anti-classist.”

In June 1977, Lourea and Rubenstein held a press conference at the Bi Center to speak out against Anita Bryant and Proposition 6 (aka the Briggs Initiative, a ballot initiative that sought to ban gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools).  As a result of the media exposure, the center’s membership rose to 435 and at its peak, the center would have almost 700 members.

In the early 1980s, the AIDS crisis began to sap resources and attention from the Bi Center and its mission, and membership began to decrease.  The center closed in 1985, but in its eight years of operation, the Bi Center had a pro­found impact.

“It created a sense of a bisexual community, educated the general public and professionals about bisexuality, confronted the gay and lesbian communities about the tendency to render the bisexual invisible, spawned several organizations (including political action groups), and changed the lives of many women and men who had felt marginalized by both the heterosexual and homosexual communities,” according to the Bisexual+ & Pansexual Network.

As activity at the Bi Center slowed, Lourea began focusing his attention on the new disease sweeping the Bay Area population.  As early as 1981, he would visit local bathhouses and BDSM clubs to give presentations on safer-sex education in an effort to reduce sexually transmitted disease.
In 1983, San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein appointed Lourea to her AIDS Education Advisory Committee.  He lobbied officials at the San Francisco Department of Public Health to get them to recognize bisexual men in their official AIDS statistics, and after two years of campaigning, he succeeded in 1984.
This seemingly small change in data collection resulted in health departments throughout the U.S. updating their processes to recognize bisexual men in AIDS statistics (whereas before they had mostly only recognized gay men).
When Lourea began to lose friends to the AIDS epidemic and he was diagnosed himself in the late 1980s, he often turned to his faith to try to make sense of the devastation and loss.  His idealogical struggle is evident in his entry to the book Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out (1991).
“For a long time now I’ve been in a great deal of spiritual trouble,” he wrote in his essay “Just Another Lingering Flu.”  “You know how it goes: How can G_d allow this to be happening? Why? Why now? Why this one or that one? Why so much pain and so little compassion? Why the false hopes? Why so many lingering flus? Why no relief in sight? What kind of G_d does not intervene? Why can’t I have what I want? Do I have more compassion than G_d? Does G_d even exist?”
In the essay, Lourea voices his anger and also ultimately acknowledges that he can still find joy:
“Even if my friends or I do not survive, even if bisexuals are never recognized, even if the whole human race fails, the universe is a pretty amazing place.”
Lourea would die of AIDS about a year after the publication of the book featuring his essay.  In Bay Area Bisexual History: An Interview with David Lourea, author Naomi Tucker wrote of Lourea’s memorial service:
“His absence was incomprehensible. The eclectic crowd of those who had come to mourn his death — teachers, young children, AIDS activists, bi activists, leather daddies, sex radicals, therapists, rabbis, and family members — was testimony to how instrumental David was in bringing communities together.”
Lourea was a writer, AIDS activist, bisexual rights activist, pre-school teacher, therapist, leather daddy, AIDS educator, and board member of Congregation Ahavat Shalom.
AIDS Quilt - Ricky Ray
December 13, 1992
Florida Teenager Ricky Ray Dies

Ricky Ray, the eldest of three hemophiliac brothers barred from school in Florida because they carried the AIDS virus, dies at the age of 15 at his home in Orlando.

Learn More.

Ricky and and his two younger brothers, Robert and Randy, sparked a national conversation on AIDS in 1987, after their court battle to attend school led to boycotts by local residents and the torching of their home in Arcadia, Florida.

Last month, President-elect Clinton had telephoned the boy to offer his support.  Bedridden with AIDS, Rick let it be known that he wanted to talk to then-President-elect Bill Clinton about the deadly disease.

When Ricky was handed the telephone in his room at All Children’s Hospital, Clinton was on the other end.

“Ricky told him, ‘I hope you do everything you said you would to make a difference,'” said Ricky’s mother, Louise. “He said that Clinton told him that he was going to do everything in his power to make things better.”

AIDS Quilt - John Dorr
January 1, 1993
EZTV Founder John Dorr Dies

John Dorr, video artist and founder of EZTV, one of the nation’s first centers devoted to the production and exhibition of video, dies in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.

Learn More.

From his two-story, cluttered loft in West Hollywood, Dorr fashioned a self-contained studio with room for filming, editing and exhibiting.  He was known to boast that prospective filmmakers just needed enough money for videotape and groceries for their casts.

Dorr became a pioneer in the production of full-length dramatic videos, providing a new opportunity for independent filmmakers to produce inexpensive feature-length movies on video.

Since opening his gallery in 1980, he had a hand in the production of more than 100 video films, among them the Lannen Literary Series, hourlong programs on major poets and writers, and Dorothy and Alan at Norma Place, a film recounting the Hollywood career of the writer Dorothy Parker.

Dorr was a graduate of Yale University and president of the the school’s film society.  While at Yale, he provided exhibits of the films of Howard Hawks, John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.  After becoming a teaching assistant at UCLA, he hit upon the idea for EZTV when he found many young documentary makers using video to make inexpensive films but there was no place to show their their work.

EZTV Founder John Dorr’s openly gay status in the late ’70s and early ’80s was rare, because such a disclosure could quickly end a Hollywood career.  Many of EZTV’s earliest participants from AIDS-related illnesses, including Benedict Falvo, Earl Miller, James “Dillinger” Baker, Mark Addy, Wallace Potts, and Victor Davis.

According to the EZTV Online Museum, EZTV served the West Hollywood community during the height of the AIDS pandemic as a place where the friends of those who had died of AIDS could hold memorial services and gatherings in their honor.  For several years, it was common for a Saturday afternoon at EZTV to be dedicated to the remembrance of someone who could not afford a service any other way.

After Dorr’s death, EZTV somehow persevered amid seemingly impossible odds.  As Michael Kearns (Hollywood’s first openly gay actor) stated, EZTV became an “AIDS survivor.”   Now housed at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, EZTV continues to be a pioneer in the media arts.

January 31, 1993
SOMA Event Producer Jerry Vallaire Dies

Gerald “Jerry” Vallaire, vice president of the South of Market Individuals Lifestyles Events, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 41.

Learn More.

When Vallaire was diagnosed in 1989 with AIDS, he closed his successful florist business, and dedicated his time to raising funds for AIDS service programs, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

As part of Up Your Alley Productions, Vallaire helped to produce benefits such as the Ringold Alley Fair, Let’s Go Navy, The Charity Bowl, The Military Ball and Art for AIDS.  His involvement in the benefits led to thousands of dollars for AIDS causes.

Born in 1951 in New Orleans, Vallaire was born to a family trade of operating wholesale and retail floral businesses.  But he was interested in the performance arts, and moved to New York City to pursue dance and theater.  There, he performed in productions with Richard Chamberlain, George Maharis, Margaret Hamilton, Ann Miller and George Chakaris.

But when his stage career failed to take off, he moved to San Francisco and opened a florist business, , Styles and Stamens.  But when Vallaire began getting involved in fundraising events, his performance background came in handy and he acted as choreographer of many dance productions created for the events.

AIDS Quilt - Arthur Ashe
February 6, 1993
Tennis Star Arthur Ashe Dies

Tennis star Arthur Ashe dies of complications from AIDS at the age of 49.  Ashe’s body is laid in state at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects to the ground-breaking athlete and social activist.

Learn More.

Ashe is celebrated for being the first (and only) African American male tennis player to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon singles titles.

Attending UCLA on a full scholarship in 1965, Ashe wins the individual NCAA tennis championship and helps UCLA win the team championship.  He then serves in the U.S. Army for two years.

Ashe begins his career in earnest in 1968, winning the U.S. Open while still an amateur player.  He becomes the first black man to win a Grand Slam event.

He becomes a trailblazer in the world of tennis, winning multiple Grand Slam titles in his career. He also becomes known for his commitment to charitable causes and humanitarian work. He establishes tennis programs for inner-city children and campaigns against apartheid in South Africa.  He retires from tennis in 1980 after suffering a heart attack.

In 1988, Ashe begins experiencing paralysis in his right arm. After undergoing exploratory brain surgery and a battery of tests, doctors determine he has toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that is commonly found in people infected with HIV. Another set of tests reveals he is HIV positive.

Doctors believe Arthur Ashe contracted HIV from blood transfusions during his second heart surgery. Despite that, Ashe and his wife try to keep his HIV diagnosis private. After a friend that worked at USA Today calls Ashe about his condition, he decides to go public.

Two months before his death, he founds the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, to help address issues of inadequate health care delivery to urban minority populations.  He also dedicates time in his last few months to writing “Days of Grace,” his memoir that he finishes only days before his death.

Arthur Ashe dies of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York at the age of 49.  His body was laid in state at the Governor’s Mansion in his hometown of Richmond, VA.  More than 5,000 people line up to walk past the casket.

His funeral is attended by nearly 6,000 people including NYC Mayor David Dinkins, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and Rainbow Coalition chairman Jesse Jackson. Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor who had performed Arthur’s marriage ceremony, delivers the eulogy.

On what would have been Arthur’s 53rd birthday, July 10, 1996, a statue of him was dedicated on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Before this, Monument Avenue had commemorated Confederate war heroes; in fact, as a child Arthur would not even have been able to visit Monument Avenue because of the color of his skin.

Arthur is depicted carrying books in one hand and a tennis racket in the other, symbolizing his love of knowledge and tennis.

In 1997, the USTA announced that the new center stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center would be named Arthur Ashe Stadium, commemorating the life of the first U.S. Open men’s champion in the place where all future U.S. Open champions will be determined.

March 6, 1993
West Hollywood Pharmacy Owner Loyd Tittle Dies

Loyd Tittle, owner of Capitol Drugs in West Hollywood, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 42.

Learn More.

Tittle was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988.  For four years, his sister Ruth Tittle traveled from Lexington, Kentucky to Los Angeles to help care for Loyd.  In 1992, Ruth moved to West Hollywood to care for her brother full-time and to help him with running his West Hollywood businesses.

Loyd suffered from cytomegalovirus (CMV) colitis, and as a result he couldn’t absorb nutrition.  As with many people with AIDS, this condition led to loss of body mass, commonly known as “wasting.”  Loyd was in the hospital 11 times in the last year of his life.

A plaque remembering Loyd Tittle is on the sidewalk in front of Capitol Drugs, part of the AIDS Memorial Walk.  His sister went on to become one of the founding members of the Foundation for The AIDS Monument.  She also served on the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and worked on the Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing project.

AIDSWatch: Advocates Organize to Lobby for Congressional Action

The National Association of People With AIDS convenes the first “AIDSWatch,” a national advocacy effort to lobby Congress for increased funding.

Learn More.

AIDSWatch would become an annual event, serving as a vehicle by which people living with and affected by HIV could speak their truth in the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and demand that Congress protect their rights and honor their struggle.

Even after the National Association of People With AIDS ceases operations in 2013, AIDSWatch advocacy day would continue to be held annually under the auspices of AIDS United.

The small group of HIV advocates who met in 1993 would transform into the country’s largest annual constituent-based national HIV advocacy event.  AIDSWatch 2020 becomes the largest to date, with more than 2,500 advocates joining over multiple platforms.

June 13, 1993
LA Activist & Commissioner Rand Schrader Dies

Rand Schrader, a California municipal judge who was a noted gay activist, dies of AIDS-related illness at Century City Hospital. He was 48.

Learn More.

Judge Schrader helped establish the AIDS clinic at the Los Angeles County Medical Center (which would be renamed in his honor).  He became one of California’s first openly gay judges when he was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1980 by Gov. Ed Brown.  He also served on the Board of Regents for the University of California, and the board of the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA), the first LGBT political action committee.

As a gay, liberal student at UCLA School of Law, Schrader volunteered countless hours giving legal guidance to members of the Los Angeles LGBT Center (then called the LA Gay Community Services Center).  Many of his cases involved police discrimination against gay men.

After graduating from UCLA, Schrader began working for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, becoming the first openly gay staffer.

“He was a star performer,” said LA City Attorney Burt Pines.  “In a relatively short period of time, he had the respect of everyone he worked with, including real conservative prosecutors who thought they could never work with a gay [man].”

In 1987, the county established an AIDS commission, and Schrader was among its first body of commissioners.  At the time, LA County had surpassed San Francisco in the number of HIV/AIDS cases, and yet county officials had refused to acquiesce to activist demands of a ward for the exclusively care and treatreatment of AIDS patients.

As a commissioner, Schrader found himself siding with AIDS activists from ACT UP Los Angeles, who routinely staged demonstrations at the LA County Medical Center.  The activists argued that persons living with HIV/AIDS needed their own ward to protect them from discrimination and neglect.

Schrader disagreed with the commission’s current chairman, Rabbi Allen Freehling.  Chair Freehling said he was concerned that patients put in a separate ward would feel “isolated.”  The commission decided to form a task force to determine a course of action, and soon it became apparent to all the commissioners that people living with AIDS would benefit significantly from having access to their own clinic.

In 1988, the County opened a separate ward for AIDS patients at the county hospital.  The next year, Schrader was elected chair of the AIDS Commission.

When Schrader was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, he went public with the news and continued his judicial work.  A month before Schrader’s death, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to name the county’s AIDS ward after Schrader in tribute to “his courage, his vision and his tenacity.”

Today, the University of Southern California maintains responsibility for the Rand Schrader HIV Clinic.  Dr. Joseph Cadden, an infectious disease specialist, serves as Medical Director of more than 40 faculty members who provide primary and specialty care to more than 3,000 patients.

AIDS Quilt - Daniel P Warner
June 14, 1993
LA Shanti Founder Daniel P. Warner Dies

Daniel P. Warner, co-founder and former executive director of the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.

Learn More.

As LA Shanti’s first Executive Director, Warner laid the groundwork for a successful volunteer-run, community-based organization that provided clients with the opportunity and resources to die with dignity.  Under Warner’s leadership, LA Shanti would become a leader in quality service programs using the Shanti model of compassionate presence.

Warner also served as Program Director of the AIDS education group West Hollywood CARES, and organized the National Candlelight March in 1983 and in 1990.

As Warner stepped down from LA Shanti’s leadership team in 1991 and prepared to move to San Francisco, he received Shanti’s first Commitment to Service Award. The same year, he received LA County’s Community Service Award and a certificate of recognition from the state Senate.

Warner served as consultant to two television movies dealing with the subject of AIDS –“Our Sons” on ABC and the Emmy Award-winning “An Early Frost” on NBC.

Warner would die on his 38th birthday with his companion at his side.

AIDS Quilt - Keeston Lowry
August 29, 1993
Portland Legislative Aide Keeston Lowery Dies

Keeston Lowery, an aide to Portland Commissioner Michael Lindberg,  dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 43.

Learn More.

Lowery was a tireless and supremely effective advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights from inside the Portland government.  He also worked as a physical therapist for Emanuel Hospital and served on the Board for the Right to Privacy PAC (predecessor to Basic Rights Oregon).

In 1967-68, Lowery worked on Sen. Robert Kennedy’s campaign for President, and shortly afterward, graduated from Mississippi State University’s five-year occupational therapy program. He continued his higher education and earned another degree from the University of Arkansas. He then worked in Pine Bluff and Little Rock, Arkansas, and in the mid-1970s, he took a job with then-Arkansas Attorney General Bill Clinton.

Lowery moved to Portand, Oregon in 1977 to take a job as a physical therapist for Emanuel Hospital, and quickly became a leader in the local queer community.  He became an aide to Portland City Commissioner Mike Lindberg, and immediately used his role in inter-governmental relations and film policy to cultivate advocates for equal rights in all levels of local and state government.

Lowery crafted Portland’s first civil rights ordinance, which banned discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and several other categories.

“His beaming smile, southern drawl and good will were infectious,” writes the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest in its tribute to Lowery.  “He was an astute political observer who could intuitively plot winning strategies.  His manifold contributions continue to this day, not only in the policies he crafted on behalf of marginalized people, but in memories of all the powerful and empowered people whose lives he touched.”

Lowery’s work on the city’s film production policies and the good will he established with film crews led to his receiving a “thank you” credit on the 1991 film My Own Private Idaho, written and directed by Gus Van Sant.

When Lowery in late August of 1993, Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts and Portland Mayor Vera attended his funeral, held on Sept. 2 in the Rose Gardens at Washington Park, along with numerous members and leaders in the LGBTQIA+ community.  Lowery’s ashes were scattered on Mount Hood, a potentially active volcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, located about 50 miles east-southeast of Portland.

The City of Portand’s archives store Lowery’s papers and artifacts.

AIDS Quilt - Joan Baker
September 3, 1993
San Francisco Activist Joan Baker Dies

Joan Baker, San Francisco’s first out HIV+ lesbian, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 27.  At the time of her passing, she is in her home surrounded by loved ones and her many pets.

Learn More.

In December of 1986, two days before Christmas, Joan Baker received news that she was HIV+.  According to a tribute to Baker in Lady Science, she had gotten tested for HIV as an act of solidarity with a friend, not because she thought she was at risk, and her diagnosis was a shock.

The youngest of a large family, Baker was born in 1966 in Riverside, California. Her parents were originally from the U.K. and moved Baker and her siblings several times from southern California to Washington state and then to England in the late 1970s.  In 1986, she left her family in England after coming out and returned to California.

She received her HIV+ diagnosis after settling in San Francisco, a city that was fast becoming a model for AIDS care to the world.  Unfortunately, the city offered very few services and resources for HIV+ women at that time.

“In 1986, many HIV care providers and activists knew women could contract HIV/AIDS, but this knowledge did not translate to widespread services or research, or compassionate coverage from the media,” according to the article on Lady Science.

HIV+ women — particularly HIV+ lesbians like Baker — were virtually invisible, but Baker fought to change this during the last seven years of her life.  Through a friend, she connected with several programs, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where she attended the first ever Women with AIDS support group.  Baker never intended to become known for being an HIV+ activist, but to gain access to services, she had to assert a level of visibility.

Baker appeared on local talk shows, promotional materials for pharmaceutical companies and care organizations, and spoke at public events. She attended protests organized by AIDS Action Pledge and ACT UP-San Francisco and carried the “Fighting for Our Lives” banner at the 1988 Candlelight Memorial March.  And that same year, during the unfolding of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Gay and Lesbian March on Washington, she took part in the reading of the names of people who had died of AIDS emblazoned on the quilt.

Because she was a HIV+ lesbian, Baker was subjected to invasive questions.  Some asked if she was an IV-drug user, while others wanted to know whether she had sex with men.  Baker’s response to these questions was to challenge people to reimagine what an HIV+ person looks like.

“It doesn’t matter how I got it,” she said.  “It’s the fact that I have been diagnosed and I am coming out as a woman with AIDS, because a lot of lesbians still think that they can’t get AIDS, and I’m here to say it can happen.”

By the last year of her life, Baker had built a strong support group and was known and admired by many in the community. After her death in early September 1993, Baker was memorialized with a political funeral and rally at Dolores Park, organized by Lesbian Avengers activist Judith Cohen.

Hundreds of people gathered for the event, including members of ACT UP-Golden Gate and ACT UP-San Francisco, and WORLD, as well as members of the Public Health Department and Lyon-Martin Health HIV Services.  The crowd carried signs with images of Baker on them and marched to Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro neighborhood, escorted by Dykes on Bikes.

Jenn Maeader, Joan’s partner for the last three years of her life, spoke at Milk Plaza about the importance of Baker’ activism and her visibility in the AIDS epidemic, saying, “Imagine if a woman here today who might be at risk now gets tested, and if we can tell her she has a life, she has a future, she has a community that supports her.”

West Hollywood Memorial Walk
December 1, 1993
Memorial Plaques Begin Lining Sidewalks of West Hollywood

Bronze plaques commemorating the fallen from AIDS begin to be embedded in the sidewalks along Santa Monica Boulevard between Fairfax and Doheny, as part of “West Hollywood Palms: A Tribute to Life.”

Learn More.

Created in 1993 to honor people who were lost to the AIDS epidemic, West Hollywood Palms (later re-named the West Hollywood Memorial Walk) became a visual reminder of how the AIDS epidemic impacted the West Hollywood community.

From an idea from West Hollywood resident Timothy Brusso, the service organization Aid For AIDS worked with the City of West Hollywood to coordinate the installation and maintenance of the first in a series of memorial plaques.  In its original conception, a palm tree accompanied each plaque, thus the project name West Hollywood Palms.

Every plaque donation provided funding for Aid For AIDS, which was Los Angeles County’s largest provider of financial assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS.  AFA, which helped thousands of clients each year pay for rent, utilities, food, and pharmaceutical needs, eventually merged with the Serra Project to become the Alliance for Housing and Healing (which currently oversees the West Hollywood Memorial Walk).

In 2000, the memorial plaques and palm trees would be removed for the duration of the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project.  Then, in 2003, the plaques would be re-installed on the boulevard between Crescent Heights and Robertson — this time with trees other than palms — and the project would be re-named the West Hollywood Memorial Walk.

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2003, the Memorial Walk would be re-dedicated in a City Hall ceremony, followed by a procession along Santa Monica Boulevard, during which the names on the plaques were read and flowers placed in honor of each person memorialized.

Currently, the Memorial Walk includes more than 200 plaques.  The Alliance for Housing and Healing administers the Memorial Walk program and maintains a website that contains an application process and an inventory of existing markers.

Perhaps the most famous person memorialized in the Memorial Walk is actor Rock Hudson, whose plaque was arranged by his friend, Elizabeth Taylor.  The names of Ron Stone, a West Hollywood community leader who orchestrated the Cityhood campaign; Daniel P. Warner, founder of the LA Shanti Foundation; and Loyd L. Tittle, popular local pharmacist, are also included on plaques.

For more information, please visit the Alliance for Housing and Healing website.

AIDS Quilt - Michael Callen
December 27, 1993
Pioneer of AIDS Activism Michael Callen Dies

AIDS movement pioneer Michael Callen dies of AIDS-related illness at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 38.

Learn More.

Callen was diagnosed early in the epidemic — 1982 — and he responded by becoming involved in every way he could in promoting the self-empowerment of People With AIDS.  In fact, Callen is credited with coining the term “People With AIDS,” and insisted on this term instead of the passive and negative-sounding phrase “AIDS victim” commonly used at the time.

Callen was born in Rising Sun, Indiana and raised in Hamilton, Ohio.  He graduated in 1977 from Boston University, which he attended on a music scholarship, and then moved to New York, where he sang in cabarets and with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

He grew into political advocacy after receiving a diagnosis of AIDS in 1982.  He became an early proponent of safer-sex practices, writing How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach with Richard Berkowitz, Dr. Joseph A. Sonnabend, and Richard Dworkin in 1983.

Among the very first publications to recommend the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs in men having sex with men, the pamphlet was distributed at gay social establishments throughout New York City — 5,000 copies in its first run.

That same year, Callen was a plaintiff in the nation’s first AIDS discrimination lawsuit, when Dr. Sonnabend, his physician, successfully fought eviction from a Greenwich Village co-op for treating people with AIDS.  Also in 1983, Callen was a founding board member of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in Greenwich Village.

On August 1, 1983, Callen was one of three PWAs who testified before a Congressional subcommittee examining the U.S. government’s response to the AIDS crisis.  In his statement before Congress, Callen described how he began to feel ill in 1981 and then was diagnosed in the summer of 1982 after being hospitalized with cryptospordiosis.

“It is very difficult when you pick up newspapers or turn on the television, and you hear that no one has fully recovered from this syndrome, and that 80% of those diagnosed with the syndrome are dead after two years,” he said.

A talented writer, Callen became the first editor of the PWA Coalition Newsline and edited the two-volume set Surviving and Thriving with AIDS, published by the Persons With AIDS Coalition in 1988.  From 1988-1989, he was editor of AIDS Forum, and his book, Surviving AIDS, published by Harper/Collins in 1990, received honorable mention from the American Medical Writers Association.

Callen wrote extensively on the subject of the politics of sexuality, his essays regularly appearing in magazines, journals, books, and newspapers, including the Village Voice, The New York Native, and Outweek.  He was among the first to give AIDS a human face, by making courageous appearances on TV shows such as Nightline, Good Morning America and 20/20.  He also appeared on the talk shows Phil Donahue and Geraldo.

Callen moved from New York to West Hollywood to keep up with his busy TV and film schedule.  He can be seen in several films and documentaries, including Philadelphia, Zero Patience, and the HBO documentary Why Am I Gay?

Throughout the years of his illness, Callen had a devoted and caring partner in Richard Dworkin, whom he met in June 1982, when Dworkin answered his classified ad seeking gay musicians.

“I called and Michael answered and said, ‘I happen to be getting together with a bass player tonight, do you want to come over?’  So I said OK and went to his house on Jones Street, and there was the bass player, and Michael had made sorbet,” Dworkin told Tim Murphy of The Body.  “And we fell in love that night, and I stayed over.  He had a piano and books, and to me that was a draw.  He moved in with me in the fall of ’82.”

“Michael accomplished so much in the 11 years between his diagnosis and his demise,” Dworkin wrote in his tribute to Callen on Callen-Lorde, the website for the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City (named for Michael Callen and Audre Lorde).

Dworkin listed Callen’s many achievments, including the founding of the People with AIDS Coalition, the Community Research Initiative, and the People with AIDS Health Group.  He also mentioned that Callen performed with The Flirtations, “the world’s first gay male politically correct a cappella group,” plus Dworkin helped Callen record and release two solo albums.

Callen also wrote, along with Oscar winner Peter Allen and Marsha Malamet, the song “Love Don’t Need a Reason”  Callen would go on to sing this at numerous events, including AIDS walkathons in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights.

Shortly before his death, Callen completed vocal tracks for 48 new songs, 29 of which were released as a double album, Legacy (winner of four Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards).

AIDS Quilt - Randy Shilts
February 17, 1994
Author-Journalist Randy Shilts Dies

Randy Shilts, a U.S. journalist who covered the AIDS epidemic and who authored And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 42.

Learn More.

Randy Shilts joined the newsroom of The San Francisco Chronicle in 1981 to report on gay politics, making him the first full-time openly gay journalist in the U.S. mainstream press. As one of the earliest people in the media to recognize the importance of AIDS as a national issue, Shilts dedicated his writing career to bringing the epidemic to the attention of the American public.

He authored three books, including The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1980-1985).

Although Shilts had been tested for HIV earlier, Shilts postponed learning the results out of fear the knowledge would compromise his objectivity. He was informed he had tested positive for the virus the day he wrote the final page of And The Band Played On.

When Shilts pitched the book to publishers, he was rejected until St. Martin’s made a modest offer with an advance of $16,000, recalls friend Michael Denneny, who edited the book.  And The Band Played On would go on to sell more than 100,000 hardcover copies, and some 600,000 paperbacks.

“He worked four years on that book,” Denneny says. “He went into debt. At one point, literally to pay his rent, he had to empty this huge water jug full of pennies, nickels and dimes.”

He died while planning a fourth book examining homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

At his memorial service at Glide Memorial Church, his friend and assistant Linda Alband placed his press card on his casket.


May 10, 1994
Lawyer & AIDS Activist Stephen C. Smith Dies

Stephen C. Smith, 37, a lawyer and AIDS activist who lobbied on behalf of federal legislation affecting people with HIV/AIDS, died of AIDS-related illness at the Hospice of Washington at the age of 37.

Learn More.

Smith worked for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation’s largest gay political organization, from 1987 until he retired on disability in 1993.  He had been a lobbyist, legislative director and legislative counsel for the organization.

His work there included advocacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which contains prohibitions on discriminating against people with AIDS, and the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which provides federal money for cities hit hard by AIDS cases. He also worked on the Hate Crime Statistics Act and lobbying efforts to increase federal funding for AIDS.

Smith was president of the Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance of Washington from 1983 to 1985, and he later served as director of its human rights project. He was chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Committee on AIDS issues, and he helped organize the National Organizations Responding to AIDS Coalition.

In a lawsuit against Georgetown University, Smith represented the Gay Rights Coalition and won the suit to compel Georgetown to recognize LGBT organizations on campus.

He was born in Geneseo, NY, and graduated from Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School.  In 1980, he came to Washington as a lawyer for the United Auto Workers and later worked for the National Labor Relations Board before joining the staff of the Human Rights Campaign Fund.

Assotto Saint
June 29, 1994
NYC Poet-Performer Assotto Saint Dies

Assotto Saint, a Haitian-born poet and performance artist, dies of AIDS-related illness in New York City at the age of 36.

Learn More.

Among the first Black activists to disclose his HIV positive status, Saint was one of the first poets to include the subject of AIDS in his work.  He was also a performance artist, musician, editor, human rights and AIDS activist, theatrical founder, and dancer.

After immigrating from Haiti to New York in 1970 when he was 13 years old, Saint graduated from Jamaica High School and was briefly enrolled as a pre-med student at Queens College.  Soon, however, he turned his attention to theater and dance, and adopted the name Assotto Saint —“Assotto” for a ceremonial drum used in Haitian vodoo rituals and “Saint” for Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. Through the 1970s, Saint’s passions grew to include poetry, music, and fiction.

In 1980, Saint fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer, and they began to collaborate on a number of theatrical and musical projects.  Their relationship would last 14 years, during which time Holmgren would write songs for Saint’s many theater pieces on gay Black life, including including Risin’ to the Love We Need and New Love Song.  Saint was the founder and artistic director of Metamorphosis Theater, where many of their collaborative pieces were performed.

Saint founded the publishing house Galiens Press, which published his book of poems Stations and the anthologies Here to Dare and The Road Before Us.  With Holmgren, Saint also performed as lead singer in the “techno pop duo” band Xotika, and released the dance song “Forever Gay” on the album Feeding the Flame: Songs by Men to End AIDS.

Saint was dancer with the Martha Graham company, and appeared in Marlon Riggs’ Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret).

“Assotto was always prepared to die,” writes author Victoria Brownworth for Lambda Literary.  “If that makes him sound like a fatalist or a Zen master, he was neither. He was just clear about what was going to happen. And he knew the work had to be done and quickly, urgently, before time ran out.”

Here is the beginning of Saint’s final poem for his life-partner, Jan Holmgren, who was dying of AIDS:

A Lover’s Diary

monday, march 29, 1993


vigil on two chairs
iwhisper “hey, good morning”
he doesn’t respond
iwatch his labored breathings
the head nurse suctions him up


“he’s turned for the worse”
dr mcmeeking mumbles
weeks, days, just can’t tell
“hours” insists my mother
furious iescort her out


the oscars come on
the crying game stars don’t win
hoping he can hear
iremind him he’s my light
death rattles my scream for help


the nurse rushes in
mother returns with prayers
icradle him close
pleading “stay, one more day, stay”
eleven twenty, he’s gone


bathe him with my tears
parched lips thirst for a wet
istick my tongue deep
bitter taste of bloody phlegm
moans spat out ishut his eyes

July 1, 1994
‘Radical Faerie’ Barry Cundiff Dies

Barry Cundiff, a member of the leather-faerie community in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44.

Learn More.

Known in the leather-faerie community as “Daddy Bear Rings,” Cundiff helped fuse the local Radical Faerie and leather movements with the group Black Leather Wings.  Gay men, lesbians and other leather enthusiasts found the group to be a place where they could combine radical sexuality with spiritual growth.

Cundiff attended his first Radical Faeries meeting in 1982 and also joined the Kathar Sissies, a faerie-inspired group devoted to spiritual healing through erotic ritual.  Born in Kansas, Cundiff relocated to San Francisco in the late 1970s after living for a few years in Los Angeles.

AIDS Quilt - Pedro Zamora
November 11, 1994
Activist & Reality TV Star Pedro Zamora Dies

Pedro Zamora, an HIV-positive man appearing in MTV’s popular show The Real World, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 22.

Learn More.

As one of the first openly gay men with AIDS in media, Zamora brings international attention to HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues and prejudices through his appearance on MTV’s reality television series, The Real World: San Francisco.

Zamora’s commitment ceremony to his partner Sean Sasser, which is filmed for the show, is also the first same-sex ceremony in television history.  Zamora dies just hours after the finale of The Real World: San Francisco aired on MTV.

AIDS Quilt - Elizabeth Glaser
December 3, 1994
Pediatric AIDS Activist Elizabeth Glaser Dies

Elizabeth Glaser, founder of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.

Learn More.

Glaser contracted HIV in a blood transfusion in 1981 while giving birth to her daughter, Ariel. She and her husband, Paul, would learn four years later that she was HIV+ and she had unknowingly passed the virus on to Ariel through breast milk and that their son, Jake, had contracted the virus in utero.

The Glasers pulled their daughter out of school, fearful of media exposure and ostracism imposed by parents of other students.  Newspapers in 1985 were filled with stories about the plight of Ryan White in Kokomo, Indiana, and the three Ray brothers in Arcadia, Florida — all hemophiliacs who, having been infected with the AIDS virus by blood transfusions, had been ostracized and barred from their schools.

Ariel Glaser had developed AIDS at a time when the medical community knew very little about the disease, and there were no available treatment options for children.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally approved AZT in early 1987 as an effective drug to extend the lives of AIDS patients, but the approval only extended to adults. With their daughter’s condition rapidly deteriorating, the Glasers fought to have her treated with AZT intravenously. However, the treatment came too late, and Ariel died in the summer of 1988, shortly after her seventh birthday.

Elizabeth Glaser went to Washington to do research on AIDS at the National Institutes of Health and found that people in power were willing to listen to her story.  She was able to mobilize legislators like Senators Orrin Hatch and Howard Metzenbaum to co-sponsor a fund-raising benefit in Washington for her new organization, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

With the help of her friends Susie Zeegen and Susan De Laurentis, Glaser created the foundation to raise money for basic pediatric research.  The foundation also supported additional clinical tests for the medication AZT, which was prescribed for adults years before it was given to children.

In 1994, to honor Glaser’s legacy, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation was renamed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.  EGPAF has become the leading global nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing pediatric HIV infection and eliminating pediatric AIDS through research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs.  Another important legacy of Glaser’s is her son, Jake, who is now a healthy adult who advocates for pediatric reserach.

January 30, 1995
Bay Area AIDS Fundraiser Joseph Hollinger Dies

Joseph Hollinger, a lifelong Bay Area resident who organized several AIDS fundraisers and leather pride parade floats, dies of AIDS-related illness at his mother’s home.  He was 32.

Learn More.

Hollinger and his partner, Rodney Barnal, operated a landscaping business in Santa Cruz.  When Barnal died of AIDS-related illness in 1988, Hollinger maintained the business until his own health began to decline in 1993, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

In 1990, Hollinger won the title of Mr. San Francisco Eagle Leather and placed third at the International Mr. Leather competition.  He wrote a widely-read leather column for the Sentinel and was nominated for a Cable Car award for his work.

Harvey and Scott
February 4, 1995
San Francisco Political Organizer Scott Smith Dies

Scott Smith, a gay rights activist best known for his romantic relationship with Harvey Milk, dies of AIDS-related illness at San Francisco General Hospital at the age of 46.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Learn More.

Smith was instrumental to the political career of Harvey Milk,  the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.  Smith organized and managed Milk’s campaigns for public office from 1974 to 1977, and he continued to influence Milk after the latter was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

In 1972, Milk and Smith were down to their last $1,000 in collective savings when they decided to open Castro Camera, a photography supplies and service shop that would soon serve as Milk’s campaign headquarters.  At the time, Milk and Smith were in a romantic relationship.

According to Randy Shilts in his book The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), Milk and Smith needed to find a cheap place to live and a way to make money.  They chose the Castro District because they heard that apartments there were cheap and they knew of two gay bars there doing booming business.  Castro Camera opened at 575 Castro Street on March 3, 1973.

Later that year, Smith orchestrated the Coors Beer boycott that elevated Milk in the Bay Area’s political scene.  One of the first public displays of power by the gay community, the boycott galvanized support behind Teamsters against the Coors Company, which refused to employ union drivers.   With Smith’s strategy, Milk convinced gay bars to boycott Coors beer and it worked — Coors caved in.  In return, Milk convinced the Teamsters to hire openly gay truck drivers, solidifying Milk’s reputation as an astute political operator.

Milk and Smith followed the success of their boycott with campaigns to elect Milk to public office. First, Milk ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1973 and again in 1975, losing both times.  Then in 1976, Milk was appointed by Mayor George Moscone to the city’s Board of Permit Appeals, but he resigned the position just a few months later to run for the California State Assembly. He lost the Assembly race as well.

Finally, Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors in the November 1977 election, and he was sworn into office on January 9, 1978, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

When Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978, Smith’s life was thrown into turmoil.

In the days that followed, Milk’s body was laid in state in the City Hall Rotunda.  On November 29, a memorial service was held at City Hall, followed by another service at Temple Emmanue-El.  Milk’s body was cremated and his ashes were wrapped in a Doonsebury comic-strip to acknowledge his love for newspaper comics, and “RIP” was spelled out in rhinestones.  Smith and a few others of Milk’s closest friends scattered the ashes in San Francisco Bay, according to Bob Kelley, curator of the photo presentation Harvey Milk, Second Sight.

The violent death of the man who had guided Smith’s personal and professional life since he was 22 years old had a devastating impact, according to Randy Shilts in his biography of Milk.

“Since most media attention focused on the political heirs of Harvey Milk — who had long considered Scott to be little more than the camera store’s clerk — Smith became increasingly embittered in the month’s after the assassination, complaining that he had never gotten due credit for propping up the business that gave Milk his political base,” Shilts wrote.

Smith was executor of Milk’s last will and testament, a job that came with the tedious process of resolving Milk’s debts and other open affairs, and he also became head of the Harvey Milk Archives, spending long hours organizing Milk’s papers, speeches, photographs and other ephemera.  Now located in the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, the Harvey Milk Archives/Scott Smith Collection contains hundreds of photographs of Smith taken by Milk, the latter who sometimes spent entire rolls of film on candid images of his favorite model.

Smith converted Castro Camera into an art gallery.  When more than a year had passed since Milk’s death and Smith was still in the throes of a deep depression, the city’s public health director reached out to Scott with counseling resources.  It was almost two years before Smith could begin reconstructing his life.

In the early 1980s, Smith left the world of politics and started afresh as a travel agent, according to SFGATE.  He continued to work on the Harvey Milk Archives, earning the nickname of “The Widow Milk” from his friends.

On January 21, 1995, just weeks before his death, Smith attended the world premiere of the Houston Grand Opera’s Harvey Milk, by librettist Michael Korie and composer Stewart Wallace.  Smith was well-known as an opera buff, a passion he had shared with Milk.  The afternoon before the opening, Smith took part in a panel discussion and traded reminiscences with five others who personally knew Milk.

When news of Smith’s death reached the Houston Grand Opera, they dedicated the final performances of Harvey Milks’ run to Smith.  The opera, in which Smith appeared as a principal character, would be reprised at the San Francisco Opera in late 1996.

Following Smith’s death, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, acting on a resolution by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, adjourned its meeting in Smith’s memory.  A potluck party was held to celebrate Smith’s life, fittingly, at the photography studio of longtime friend Danny Nicoletta.  Nicoletta had worked in Smith and Milk’s camera shop in the 1970s.

In the 2008 feature film Milk, the role of Scott Smith was played by James Franco.

AIDS Quilt - Paul Monette
February 10, 1995
Writer-Activist Paul Monette Dies

Paul Monette, author of the award-winning Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, dies at his home in West Hollywood of AIDS-related illness at the age of 49.

Learn More.

Borrowed Time chronicles Monette’s experience caring for his partner Roger Horwitz during his fight with AIDS and eventual death from AIDS.  The memoir details the final nineteen months of Horwitz’s life, beginning with the day that he was first diagnosed with AIDS, which Monette describtes as “the day we began to live on the moon.”

Born in 1945 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Monette was educated at prestigious schools in New England: Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University, where he received his B.A. in 1967.  Soon after graduating from Yale, he began a prolific writing career, and for eight years, he wrote poetry exclusively.

After coming out in his late twenties, he met Roger Horwitz, who was to be his lover for over twenty years. At around this time, he grew disillusioned with poetry and shifted his interest to the novel, not to return to poetry until the 1980s.

In 1977, the couple moved to Los Angeles, and Monette wrote a number of screenplays that, though never produced, provided him the means to be a writer.  Monette published four novels between 1978 and 1982 that were enormously successful, including Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll and The Gold Diggers, and established himself as a writer of popular fiction.

“He was a capable writer, but he had not discovered his voice.  When AIDS arrived, he found it,” writes Legacy Project Chicago in its tribute to Monette.  “On the front lines of the epidemic he picked up his pen and began to capture the horror as it happened.

In the year following Horwitz’s death in 1986, Monette wrote Borrowed Time, and its 1988 release catapulted him into the national arena as a spokesperson for AIDS.  Since very few out gay men had the opportunity to address national issues in mainstream venues at any previous time in U.S. history, Monette’s high-visibility profile was one of his most significant achievements.

For Borrowed Time, Monette won PEN Center West literary award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  He went on to write two important novels about AIDS, Afterlife (1990) and Halfway Home (1991).

In 1992, Monette released the memoir Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, an uncompromising look at coming to terms with being a gay man.  In the book, he wrote: “I can’t con­ceive the hid­den life anymore, don’t think of it as life.  When you finally come out, there’s a pain that stops, and you know it will never hurt like that again, no mat­ter how much you lose or how bad you die.”

This would become the first LGBTQ studies title to win the 1992 National Book Award.

He followed Becoming a Man with a book of essays, Last Watch of the Night (1994), which he wrote while being treated for full-blown AIDS, hooked up to three intravenous tubes and taking a daily regimen of numerous oral medications. The book is a collection of essays that move through themes from the painful lives of gay priests to the unending bigotry against gay men.

Monette also wrote an episode for the popular television series Thirtysomething about an advertising executive who learns he has the AIDS virus. The show, written with Richard Kramer, a producer for the series, was one of the first prime-time network series to deal with AIDS.

March 11, 1995
South African gospel singer Musa Njoko Discloses HIV-Positive Status

Musa “Queen” Njoko reveals her HIV-positive status to Ilanga, a Zulu newspaper, becoming South Africa’s only recording artist living openly with the virus.

Learn More.

Njoko’s story landed on the newspaper’s front page, which resulted in her being expelled from her church and threatened with death by her partner.  She told the Ilanga that she was diagnosed with HIV a year ago, in 1994, the year of South Africa’s independence from white minority rule.  She was 22 years old, and her doctor told her she had three months before AIDS would end her life.

“I waited … three, four months, I waited for death,“ Njoko told NationNews in a 2010 interview.  “I would make sure that I rested properly in my bed, put my arms on my chest just to make sure that at least in my coffin, I would look decent.  It was very lonely and very emotionally draining and quite sad.”

Njoko decided to become an advocate and activist for HIV-positive people, because of the lack of information about the disease.  She was angry and frustrated.

“There was no information at all, except that it was known as a disease for people who had multiple partners, a disease for gay people and for people who were sex workers,” she said.

She believed that people — particularly women — were becoming infected because they believed they didn’t need to be concerned about HIV if they didn’t belong to any of those groups.  And yet, when her doctor tested her for the AIDS virus, she said that Njoko “fitted the profile — Black, young, from a township, with a child.”

She wanted to raise awareness about the ever-increasing risk of being infected, so she took the courageous step of disclosing her HIV status in the local newspaper.

Just a few years later, Njoko would find herself organizing the funeral of another activist who publicly disclosed her HIV status in media.  Gugu Dlamini, a 36-year-old South African woman who volunteered as a field worker for the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS, was stoned and stabbed to death by neighbors in 1998 after she announced on a local radio station that she was HIV positive.

Njoko somehow avoided a fate similar to Dlmini’s and would become a long-term HIV survivor, thriving as a gospel singer and motivational speaker.  But for almost 10 years, she would have to manage her disease largely without the treatment options available in other countries.

In South Africa, antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) would not become available to its citizens until 2004.  Former President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang questioned the research on ARV treatment for HIV and AIDS.  During this time, Njoko would endure a six-month bout of meningitis, followed by bone-marrow tuberculosis.  Then in 2002, she almost lost her right arm in a car accident, resulting in the permanent limited use of her right hand.

But she perservered, and by 2010, she would be known as the voice for countless women who were still afraid to speak about the issues of rape, abuse and HIV.  Njoko would travel extensively, making her voice heard at conferences and ministering to those living with HIV/AIDS.

In 2016, Njoko would write the musical theatre production In My Own Voice about her journey with HIV against the backdrop of 1990s South Africa, deprived of healthcare resources and rife with intolerance for those with HIV/AIDS.  The show would hold its world premier at the Durban Playhouse in South Afirica on July 22, 2016 on the final evening of the 21st International AIDS conference.

Njoko would also become a key role player in South African Voices: Towards a Museum of HIV Memory and Learning, an AIDS educational project at Durban’s KwaMuhle Museum.  The museum exhibition offered people a space to celebrate achievements in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa.

Njoko continues to pioneer for HIV/AIDS, women’s health and human rights.

“Life can still be lived to its fullest, but it might change a bit from what you envisioned,” she said in 2016.  “Eat properly, follow your treatment, and look after your spiritual and emotional well-being.”


National HIV Testing Day
June 27, 1995
National HIV Testing Day is Launched

The National Association of People With AIDS launches the first National HIV Testing Day.

Learn More.

National HIV Testing Day is now held annually to encourage people to get tested for HIV, know their status, and get linked to care and treatment.

The National Association of People With AIDS ceased operations in 2013, National HIV Testing Day continues to be observed annually.

On this day, the CDC and many other organizations distribute free HIV self-testing kits.

July 11, 1995
Chinese AIDS Activist & Disc Jockey JJ Chan Dies

Disc jockey JJ Chan, the first Chinese person living with AIDS to speak out about his disease in a government campaign, dies of AIDS-related illness at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong.  He was 35.

Learn More.
In April 1995, Chan announced he would become the focus of the Chinese government’s AIDS awareness campaign, according to the South China Morning Post.  The move was hailed as a breakthrough, because Chan was the first Chinese-born person to share his story in a government-sponsored campaign.

Talking openly about his disease, Chan countered misconception in his country that HIV/AIDS only afflicted foreigners.

Friends remembered Chan as a fun person.

“He had a really jolly character,” said Maureen McGinley of AIDS Concern.

In addition to an obituary, the South China Morning Post published a tribute to Chan, saying, “Society owes a big debt of sympathy and admiration to the former disc-jockey, J.J. Chan, for his courageous decision to disclose his battle with AIDS.

After Chan’s death, the Chinese government continued to broadcast Chan’s message, in which he relayed his experience as a person with AIDS and his relationship with family and friends. He gave advice on ways of preventing contracting the deadly virus.

Bruce Boland deputy
August 18, 1995
WeHo Deputy Bruce Boland Dies

Bruce Boland, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who was the first gay officer to sue that agency for anti-gay discrimination, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.

Learn More.

A native of Chicago who was educated at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., Boland became an LA County deputy in 1984 and was assigned to the West Hollywood station.  He was fired in 1991 for allegedly falsifying a 1989 report for a drug paraphernalia possession charge.  Boland was charged with felony preparation of false evidence, but a judge dismissed the criminal case in 1992.

Boland sued the LA County Sheriff’s Department for $90 million, claiming he was harassed and fired because of his sexual orientation.  Boland was represented by John Duran, a civil rights attorney who also served as a Councilmember for the City of West Hollywood.

In the wake of his firing, Boland’s cause was taken up by the West Hollywood City Council, which has urged his reinstatement, and by activists in the city’s large gay community.

The controversy stems from an April 1989 incident in West Hollywood during which Boland arrested a man for possession of drug paraphernalia.  At the preliminary hearing, Boland said he discovered that he had made an error in the arrest report.  He told the prosecutor that he had mistakenly written that a bag of syringes was found at the feet of the suspect seated in the front of the car, when they were actually on the floor of the back seat next to a second man whom Boland did not arrest.

The bag belonged to the man who was arrested. Nevertheless, the prosecutor concluded that Boland’s error had tainted the arrest to the point that the charges had to be dropped.

The Sheriff’s Department referred the matter to the district attorney’s special investigations division, which filed two misdemeanor charges and two felony charges against Boland.  The Sheriff’s Department then suspended Boland without pay.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed the charges in June 1990, saying that Boland’s arrest report was “at best very sloppy,” but added, “I consider (this) a training problem internal (to) the law enforcement agency and not something that we send people to prison over.”

The district attorney’s office appealed the dismissal of the charges, and Boland was reinstated and assigned to the sheriff’s station in Marina del Rey, where he was told to wash and wax sheriff’s patrol boats. In April, 1991, he was fired – for incompetence, his superiors told him.

Boland said, “To this day I cannot understand why this has happened … I was not openly gay.  There were rumors circulated, but I did not ‘come out.’  … I had an excellent relationship with my superiors.”

The West Hollywood Gay & Lesbian Sheriff’s Conference Committee, an independent advisory body that includes a sheriff’s representative from the West Hollywood station, examined the case and concluded that Boland was treated “substantially different than most deputies involved in similar infractions, and more harshly than other deputies involved in considerably more egregious infractions.”

The treatment of Boland prompted outcries of discrimination against gays and fueled calls for the City of West Hollywood to replace the County Sheriff’s services with a private police force.  Ultimately, the Sheriff’s Department decided to reinstate Boland and bring him back to the West Hollywood station, and the deputy responded by dropping his civil suit.

At the West Hollywood City Council meeting on April 20, 1992, Boland thanked the Council for its help and support in getting him reinstated and re-assigned to his West Hollywood post.

Visitors to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station can see a photo of Deputy Boland which is placed in a prominent location in the lobby, accompanied by the following poem:

“God saw that he was getting tired
and a cure was not to be.
So He put His arms around him
and whispered, ‘Come with me.’

With tearful eyes we watched him suffer
and saw him fade away.
Although we loved him dearly,
we could not make him stay.

A golden heart stopped beating,
hard working hands came to rest,
God broke our hearts to prove to us
He only takes the best.”

August 27, 1995
TV-Film-Stage Actor Richard Frank Dies

Richard Frank, a critically acclaimed stage actor who portrayed as Jules Bennett on the ABC sit-com Anything but Love, dies of AIDS-related illness at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 42.

Learn More.

In Anything but Love (1989-1992), Frank provided comic moments to the series’ love story involving characters played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis.  Frank also gave a notable performance as Father Vogler in the 1984 movie Amadeus.

On stage, Frank originated the role of infamous lawyer and informal powerbroker Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in AmericaThe Los Angeles Times’ Myrna Oliver described Frank as “a versatile actor equally comfortable with Shakespeare and modern works.”

He earned the 1991 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance as the homosexual window dresser Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. He also won a Dramalogue award for his portrayal of Herman in Five Easy Pieces at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum in 1985.

By 1993, Frank had been public about his affliction with AIDS. In the wake of his public disclosure, Frank was asked to guest-star on the TV show Life Goes On.  In the episode “Bedfellows,” Frank played Chester, the hospital roommate of Jesse McKenna (played by Chad Lowe), while both were admitted for illnesses related to their AIDS statuses.  Frank’s character lost his battle with AIDS before the episode’s end, but not before passing on wisdom to Jesse for his own dealings with his illness.

Following his landmark appearance on Life Goes On, Frank’s health began a gradual decline, but throughout 1994, he kept up his steady guest turns on series ranging from The Larry Sanders Show to Matlock.

By the beginning of 1995, in order to preserve his health, Frank made the decision to become a television director. That year, an episode of Mad About You he directed became his final work in show business.

In 2006, actor Jamie Lee Curtis told Today that Frank inspired her to participate in the AIDS Walk sponsored by AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).  She also became a member of the advisory board for the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and helped to raise money for children whose lives were impacted by the AIDS crisis.

“I have tried to keep Rick’s incredible life spirit alive in my daily actions and work, both in and out of show business,” Curtis said.  “I write books for children to help them understand the secrets that we adults seem to know about life, feelings, and loss. I dedicated my book Where Do Balloons Go? to Rick.”

Steven Corbin
August 31, 1995
Author & Activist Steven Corbin Dies

Promising Los Angeles novelist and ACT UP member Steven Corbin dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.

Learn More.

An advocate for black gay writers, Corbin lived and worked in LA for nearly two decades, and helped to found Clean Needles Now to help stop the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users.

Published in 1989, Corbin’s first novel, No Easy Place to Be, described the lives of three sisters during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s as they mingled with real-life writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, actor Paul Robeson and others.

“I wanted to say something about black writers,” Corbin told the Los Angeles Times. “The only thing we remember about the Harlem Renaissance is the Cotton Club, where blacks danced and sang and did buffoonery.  We do not … remember our novelists, our playwrights and our great actors, such as Paul Robeson.”

Corbin subsequently wrote Fragments That Remain in 1993, telling the story of an African American family whose eldest son has an interracial homosexual love affair, and A Hundred Days From Now in 1994, describing two lovers dealing with AIDS.

“Over the course of his three published novels and the wildly divergent critical reception that they received, Corbin charted and specified the concerns that recur in black gay men’s writing while rendering those concerns with a sense of urgency rooted in his awareness of his position in medias res,” writes Terry Rowden in PEN America.  “His novels served as articulations of the social and expressive parameters of black queer identities in relation to both established and emerging figurations of history, family, race, and mortality.”

He is considered by many to be a groundbreaking queer black writer.

Born in Jersey City, Corbin began writing after he dropped out of the film program at the University of Southern California. He later went on to teach creative writing at UCLA.

“The last time I saw Steven, I visited him in New York and we had a wonderful dinner at an uptown soul food place, talking books and politics into the wee hours,” wrote his friend Mark Sarvas in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  “He called me a few weeks later and I could hear in his voice that something was wrong.  The bravado crumbled, and I listened to him miles away as his voice broke … That voice haunts me to this day.”

While a member of ACT UP Los Angeles, Corbin was active in the organization’s People of Color Caucus and then joined a small group of activists who were interested in creating a needle-exchange program in Los Angeles.  The result was Clean Needles Now, a robust syringe exchange program that brought clean needles and other supplies via truck to various parts of the city.

He was nominated for a 1994 Lambda Literary Award in the category of gay male fiction.  Shortly before his death, he moved back to New York City.

October 28, 1995
San Diegan AIDS Activist James Thompson Dies

James “Jim” R. Thompson, a founding member of Being Alive San Diego, died of AIDS-related illness in San Diego at the age of 53.

Learn More.

After testing positive to HIV in 1985, Thompson devoted the rest of his life to the battle against AIDS, according to the Bay Area Reporter.  In addition to being a founding member of Being Alive San Diego, he wrote an 80-page consumer guidebook listing the resources for HIV/AIDS services.

Born in San Diego in 1942, Thompson attended the University of California Berkeley and became involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements on campus.  He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and remained in San Francisco.

In 1984, he returned to San Diego to care for his ailing mother.  When he became HIV+ a year later, Thompson left his job at Bank of America to become staff coordinator of Being Alive’s Peer Advocacy Program.  Thompson was working at Being Alive in August 1995 when he suddenly collapsed and was unable to return to work.

Shortly before he died, Thompson was honored by the San Diego AIDS Coalition for his dedication and achievements in the services of people with HIV/AIDS.

Essex Hemphill
November 4, 1995
Poet & AIDS Activist Essex Hemphill Dies

Essex Hemphill, an openly gay poet and activist, dies of AIDS-related illness at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.  He was 38 years old.

Learn More.

From 1981 till his death in 1995, Hemphill was a focal point of the Washington, DC arts scene, which was considered a second Harlem Renaissance.  He was one of the few writers to articulate what it meant to be both black and gay.

In 1976, Hemphill left the University of Maryland after his freshman year and spent the following four years in Los Angeles honing his art. When he returned to the District in 1981, his poetry was stronger, sharper, and more elegant and visceral, according Sarah Kaplan in The Washington Post.

He began staging performances of his poetry with artist Wayson Jones, who had been Hemphill’s roommate at U-Md.  Their readings soon graduated from cramped coffeehouses to small, alternative theaters, then to the Kennedy Center, then to New York and London.

In 1991, Hemphill received the Lambda Literary Award for editing the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men, the continuation of a project started by Joseph Beam, who died in 1988.  Hemphill also received the National Library Association award in 1992 for his own collection of prose and poetry, Ceremonies.

The poems and essays in Ceremonies address the sexual objectification of black men in white culture, relationships among gay black men and non-gay black men, HIV/AIDS in the black community and the meaning of family. He also goes on to critique both the institutionalized patriarchy, and dominant gender identities within society.

Much of Hemphill’s poetry and spoken word was autobiographical, and portrayed his experiences as a minority in both the African-American and LGBT communities.  He wrote pieces such as “Family Jewels,” which conveyed his frustrations about white bigotry, specifically within the gay community.  In his essay “Does Your Momma Know About me?” Hemphill criticizes photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Black Book, which showcased pictures of the penises of black men and excluded the faces of his subjects.

Hemphill repeatedly invoked loneliness throughout his work. Loneliness in Hemphill’s work is a traumatic feeling, a constant sense of rejection. Many of the men returned home after being rejected by white gay communities, only to be rejected within black communities as well. In Hemphill’s poetry, he portrays loneliness as a collective feeling. He defined loneliness as a sense of being, marked by suffering without public recognition. A sense of separation from the public creates a social longing because even though the journey is lonesome, fighting against that journey not to kill you, as Hemphill said in one of his poems, makes you yearn for community and support

After Hemphill’s death, December 10, 1995 was announced by three organizations to be a National Day of Remembrance for Essex Hemphill at New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. Cheryl Dunye dedicated her 1996 film The Watermelon Woman to Hemphill.

In his essay “(Re)- Recalling Essex Hemphill” in Words to Our Now, Thomas Glave, pays tribute to Hemphill’s life, focusing on the lasting effects of his actions. Glave writes:

In this now, we celebrate your life and language Essex. So celebrating, we know that we re-call you in what is largely, to borrow from another visionary, a ‘giantless time.’ The sheer giantry of your breathing presence has passed. Now present and future warriors—ourselves and others—will be compelled to learn, as you did and made manifest, that all hauls toward truth—toward venality; ardor, not arrogance; forthrightness, not cowardice.

In 2014, Martin Duberman wrote the award-winning book, Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, in which Duberman documents the life of Essex Hemphill, along with author and activist, Michael Callen.

In June 2019, Hemphill was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

Ilka Tanya Payán
April 6, 1996
Dominican Actress-Activist Ilka Tanya Payán Dies

Ilka Tanya Payán, a Dominican-born actress and attorney who later became a prominent HIV/AIDS activist in the U.S., dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 53.

Learn More.

Born in 1943 in Santo Domingo, Payán  immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13 and became widely recognized for her role in the Spanish-language telenovela Angelica, Mi Vida.  From there, Payán moved on to roles in the film Scarface and the TV drama Hill Street Blues.  As an advocate of New York’s Latino theater community, she was a founder of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA).

Payán studied law at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles and became an attorney in 1981, practicing immigration law.  She also wrote a weekly column on immigration issues for El Diario/La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language daily in the U.S.  It was around this time she contracted HIV from a former lover, for which she did not test positive until 1986.

She still occassionally performed, such as her 1991 role in the video Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Firehouse as Delores, a kindly neighbor who offers Marge and Mr. Monster a place to stay while their house is repaired.

Payán did not publicly disclose her status until October 1993.  Payán’s announcement shocked many in the Hispanic community because she was one of the first Latino celebrities to disclose their HIV-positive status.

“I’m not Magic Johnson or Arthur Ashe,” Payán said at her 1993 press conference to announce her HIV status. “As a public person, I won’t devote myself to being an official spokesperson in the struggle for dignity for people with H.I.V. or AIDS.”

However, Payán scrapped this plan and quickly became “the new darling of AIDS conferences and events,” according to The New York Times.  In December 1993, she was a keynote speaker for a United Nations forum on World AIDS Day.

As a spokeswoman for the battle against AIDS, Payán made numerous public appearances and was widely interviewed by Spanish-language news organizations.  She also received numerous awards for her work, among them a Medal of Honor presented to her by President Joaquin Balaguer of the Dominican Republic.

Around March 1994, Payán had her first opportunistic infection, and subsequently underwent rounds of PCP (Pneumocystis pneumonia), MAC (Mycobacterium avium complex) and streptococcal pneumonia.  Within two years, she was hospitalized for three long stays.

”I remind myself that I am still me,“ Payán told POZ magazine in August 1995. ”Besides, think of all the clothes I can fit into now.”

In the 1990s, Payán worked in the legal department for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), a non-profit, community-based HIV/AIDS organization.

“Agencies like GMHC came out of white, gay, middle-class activism, because those are the people who know how to function in the system,” Payán said in her POZ interview.  “And there’s nothing wrong with that.  If this had been a disease which started with women, nothing would have been done.”

Payán died from AIDS-related complications at her Hell’s Kitchen home on April 6, 1996.

AIDS Quilt Covers National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed in its entirety for the last time; it covers the entire National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Learn More.

An estimated 1.2 million people come to view it, among them President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Second Lady Tipper Gore.

The Quilt was first displayed on the National Mall on Oct. 11, 1987, during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  At that time, it consisted of 1,920 panels and covered a space roughly the size of a football field.

Today, the Quilt has grown too large to be displayed all at once on the National Mall.  It is an epic 54-ton tapestry that includes nearly 50,000 panels dedicated to more than 105,000 individuals.  It is the premiere symbol of the AIDS pandemic, a living memorial to a generation lost to AIDS and an important HIV prevention education tool.

Each year, the National AIDS Memorial works with hundreds of partners across the country to orchestrate more than 1,000 displays in schools, universities, places of worship, corporations and community centers. On World AIDS Day, December 1st, more than half of the Quilt goes on display around the nation.

New panels are still being made.

July 18, 1998
Bay Area Civil Rights Lawyer Thomas Steel Dies

Thomas Steel, a San Francisco lawyer who champtioned free speech, freedom of religion, LGBT rights, and the civil rights of minorities, dies at a San Francisco hospital of AIDS-related complications.  He was 48 years old.

Learn More.

One of the first of Steel’s cases to be followed widely was his 1978 defense of Huey P. Newton, a leader of the Black Panthers, on assault charges in Alameda County, according to The New York Times.  In his cross-examination of a key witness, Steel was able to get the witness to admit that he didn’t know who was responsible for the assault.  Newton was acquitted.

In perhaps Steel’s most celebrated case, he won a $920,000 settlement for a Vietnam War veteran who was nearly killed by a U.S. Navy munitions train while he sat on the tracks to nonviolently blockade a weapons shipment to El Salvador.  The man, whose legs were severed in the incident, used the settlement money from the federal government to be fitted with artificial limbs.

Steel was known for taking on unpopular causes and controversial cases.  He successfully sued the City of San Francisco in several police brutality cases.  Even his opponents couldn’t help but admire him.

San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne said, “He was always for the underdog. He fought very hard for his clients. He was an excellent attorney who cared very much about people and civil rights.”

Senator Barbara Boxer from California said, “He devoted much of his life to fighting for the disadvantaged, and he will be sorely missed.”

Steel grew up on a peach ranch north of Sacramento.  Both his grandfather and father were County Superior Court judges.  According to the San Francisco Examiner, his father would conduct mock court at the dinner table, using forks and knives to map property lines, and challenging his children to determine fair resolutions to cases.

In 1975, Steel earned his law degree from Hastings College of the Law, where he joined the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive attorneys’ group, and formed the Gay Caucus, the guild’s first LGBT committee. He later helped found the nation’s first gay and lesbian bar association, the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom.

After opening his own firm, Steel he agreed to represent the Mitchell Brothers and other adult entertainment businesses against the City of San Francisco’s efforts to curtail them, successfully arguing for the business owners’ First Amendement rights.

In 1979, Steel pushed the San Francisco district attorney to prosecute and convict a police officer for battery after he and several drunken friends invaded a local lesbian bar.  He then sued the city over the incident on behalf of the injured patrons, which at the time was unusual.

In the last few years of his life, Steel continued to fight for the rights of others.  In 1995, he helped the city’s Board of Supervisors craft Proposition G, which fortified the rights and purview of the Office of Citizen Complaints and its investigations of reports of police misconduct. He also brought suits over the course of 15 years under the federal Freedom of Information Act on behalf of journalists and others seeking FBI records.

In 1996, Steel won a federal appeals court ruling that the City of San Francisco’s ownership and display atop a hill of the 103-foot Mount Davidson cross violated the constitutional separation of church and state. A lower judge permitted the cross to stay, saying it was mainly historical, not religious, and it was often shrouded by fog. The appeals court reversed his decision, saying, “Constitutional guarantees should not depend on weather, especially in San Francisco.”

The Pride Law Fund has named its most prestigious fellowship award after the late civil rights icon.  The Tom Steel Post-Graduate Fellowship provides a $30,000 award for a new lawyer to work in the U.S. on an innovative, public interest law project that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

December 17, 1998
Gugu Dlamini Killed by Neighbors in South Africa

After speaking about her HIV-positive status on Zulu-language radio and television, activist Gugu Dlamini is stoned and stabbed to death by men in her South African community.

Learn More.

Dlamini, a volunteer for a local HIV/AIDS organization, disclosed her HIV-positive to raise awareness about the prevalence of the disease in her community in an attempt to curtail its spread.  She lived in KwaZulu-Natal (now known as Ntuzuma B), a province just outside the city of Durham, South Africa that at the time had the highest incidence of HIV infection (30% of adult residents).

After Dlamini announced her HIV status in the media, neighbors threatened her and told her to stop disparaging their community.  A week before she was murdered, Dlamini was physically attacked by a local man who ordered her to “keep quiet” about her illness.

According to a report in a local newspaper, Dlamini reported the assault to police, but they did not respond.  Shortly afterward, a group of men broke into her house and beat her in front of her 12-year-old daughter.  She died the next day.

News of Dlamini’s death brought worldwide attention to the level of stigma in South Africa and the world in general for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Twelve years later, Dlamini’s daughter, Mandisa Dlamini, founded the Gugu Dlamini Foundation to maintain the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.  Mandisa Dlamini also returned to KwaZulu-Natal and turned the house where her mother was murdered into an AIDS museum where “women and girls stigmatized and discriminated can find sense of belonging. “

February 7, 1999
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Raises Visibility

The first National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is launched as a grassroots-education effort  to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in communities of color.

February 7, 1999
Bay Area AIDS Activist Reggie Williams Dies

Reggie Williams, a longtime AIDS activist and former head of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, dies in Amsterdam, where he had lived for the last five years.  He was 47.

Learn More.

Williams was an early leader in calling for public awareness of the problem in the Bay Area’s Black community.  Through his job as founding director of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, he advanced the public’s understanding of the plight of HIV-infected minorities.

Launched in 1985, the San Francisco-based National Task Force on AIDS Prevention developed culturally sensitive research and training programs and shared them with HIV/AIDS advocates and organizations working across the country.

“You need to look at a different model from one that works for gay, white men,” said Williams in the late 1980s. “There is a host of other issues we gay men of color deal with on a daily basis. We have to deal with impoverishment, homophobia in our own community, and pervasive racism in society.”

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Williams graduated from Withrow High School in 1969 and enrolled to be trained as an X-ray technician at Cincinnati General Hospital.  In the late 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles, where he took and job at Cedars-Sinai Hospital and first encountered patients severely ill with the disease that years later would become called AIDS.

In the early 1980s, Williams and his partner, Tim Isbell, moved to San Francisco.  At a time when AIDS was already approaching epidemic proportions, he started working as an x-ray technician at University of California San Francisco’s Moffitt Hospital.  It was in this environment that Williams realized that information and prevention efforts were not reaching the gay and bisexual Black community.

Williams called a meeting at his home to take action, and soon he and others founded the AIDS Task Force of the San Francisco chapter of Black and White Men Together.  The organization would quickly expand and rebrand as the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention (NTFAP).

The groundbreaking work of NTFAP’s early years included the first national survey of more than 900 Black men who had sex with men, collecting data on knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.  The first national data collection of its kind, the survey showed that a full third of Black gay and bisexual men were privately homosexual but publicly involved with women, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“These men go into a relationship with a woman because they need to feel accepted within the ranks of the black community. As a result, there’s greater risk that the virus will spread not only among them, but among women and the family when they go home,” Williams told The Chronicle.

In 1986, at the age of 35, Williams was diagnosed with HIV.  Eight years later, he moved to Amsterdam to be with his partner, German-born Wolfgang Schreiber, whom U.S. law prohibited from moving to the U.S. because he had tested positive for HIV.

Williams and Schreiber officially registered their partnership in Amsterdam  on October 20, 1998, and in December, they took what would be Williams’ last trip to California, according to the National Black Justice Coalition’s tribute to Williams.  They visited the San Francisco AIDS Office to see a new project that had been named in his honor, Project Reggie, a computerized client registration and information/referral system for city residents.

Williams and Schreiber returned to their home in Amsterdam, and on February 7, 1999, Williams died peacefully at the Academisch Medisch Centrum Hospital. His funeral service was held at Westerveld Crematorium in Driehuis, Netherlands, and his ashes were buried at his mother’s grave in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In Amsterdam, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, memorial services were held to celebrate Williams’ life and honor his achievements.  National Black AIDS Awareness Day is now observed each year on February 7, which coincides with the anniversary of Williams’ passing.

A room at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center is dedicated in his honor. Williams also is featured in a photo exhibit sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society, featuring photographic portraits of people living with AIDS in the early years of the epidemic.

May 1, 1999
Black AIDS Institute Founded

In May, activist Phill Wilson founds the Black AIDS Institute. The Institute’s mission is “to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV.” Its motto: “Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution.”

August 21, 1999
Singaporean Activist Paddy Chew Dies

Paddy Chew, the first Singaporean to go public with his HIV status, dies of AIDS-related illness at Singapore’s Communicable Disease Centre.  He was 39 years old.

Learn More.

On December 12, 1998, Chew publicly disclared his HIV-positive status during the first National AIDS Conference in Singapore.

For 13 years, Chew worked for Singapore Airlines as a flight attendant, after which he joined the Boom Boom Room, Singapore’s first drag cabaret.  He said he was not aware of AIDS or HIV during the first half of his career as a flight attendant.

As a result, Chew did not start using a condom and adopting other safe sex techniques until 1986.  Two years after leaving his airline job, be came ill.  Inexperienced medical personnel failed to recognize Chew’s condition of oral thrush as a possible byproduct of HIV/AIDS, and he was put through a battery of standard medical tests before being administered an HIV test at his request.

After his diagnosis, Chew travelled to Brussels to begin receiving treatment unavailable in Singapore, but by 1996, he had lost 45% of his body weight and his health was failing rapidly.

He left the Boom Boom Room, and in 1998, he began performing Completely With/Out Character, an an intensely personal one-man show exploring prejudice against people with AIDS and the lack of support from the Singaporean government.

With dark humour, Chew told anyone who would listen about what it was like to shop for his own coffin and get his funeral portrait taken.  He shared his regret for not taking more care of his mother, and he describes other people with AIDS who he felt were less fortunate than he was.  He told the story of how he risked infection.

Chew was invited to speak at the National AIDS Conference in Singapore, and became a public figure overnight.  He granted many interviews, wishing to raise awareness about the spread of HIV, and his photo was published in local and foreign publications.

When Chew was attacked in the media as a promiscuous bisexual and publicity-seeker, he responded by saying:

“Who wants to be famous for having AIDS? For goodness sake … I have seen too many AIDS patients die. Most die alone. There is no warmth, no care for them. They are not ready to die — you can see it in their eyes. I told myself I had to do something worthwhile for myself and for the cause, to clear the path for future patients, so that they will not die like that.”

The final version of Completely With/Out Character was produced by The Necessary Stage and staged at The Drama Centre in May 1999. At the end of each performance, Chew would strip to his shorts and raise his arms to better allow the audience to see his emaciated frame.  This was followed by a frank question and answer session.  All proceeds from the play were donated to Action for AIDS, a service organization for which he was an outspoken volunteer.

Chew planned to write a book and take a last trip to Europe, but in June 1999, his illness began to rapidly progress and he admitted himself to the Communicable Disease Centre, where he would die surrounded by family two months later.

Kiyoshi Kuromiya.jpeg (2)
May 10, 2000
AIDS Activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya Dies

Kiyoshi Kuromiya — who dedicated his life to LGBTQ activism, AIDS healthcare expansion, civil rights, and anti-war efforts — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 57.

Learn More.

Born in 1943 in a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming known as Heart Mountain, Kuromiya would go on to devote his life to the struggle for social justice.

During the 1960s, Kuromiya became a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War.  In 1967-68, he was an assistant to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he took care of King’s children following his assassination.  He then moved to New York City, and in July 1969, following the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, Kuromiya was among the gays and lesbians who founded the Gay Liberation Front.

“GLF tapped into the radical sentiments brewing among young, countercultural, and political gays and lesbians in New York City — and mobilized the energy and eagerness for political action that many felt in the days following Stonewall,” according to OutHistory.  In the ways that the GLF organized (patterned after the the women’s movement) and conducted meetings, the organization can be seen as a direct predecessor to ACT UP.

Kuromiya was diagnosed with AIDS in 1989 and immediately researched everything he could about HIV/AIDS. He became a self-taught AIDS expert who believed that patients fared best when they understood the disease, explored treatment options, and actively participated in medical decisions.

Kuromiya became involved in all aspects of the AIDS movement, including radical direct action with ACT UP Philadelphia and the ACT UP network, People With AIDS empowerment, national and international research advocacy, and the mentorship and care for hundreds of people living with HIV.

Kuromiya was the editor of the “ACT UP Standard of Care,” the first standard of care for people living with HIV produced by PWAs.  He also ran a community medicine chest to help patients get free drugs and ran a 24-hour hotline for patients needing information — even prisoners calling collect.

Kuromiya is perhaps best known as the founder of the Critical Path Project newsletter.  Published by the service organization Philadelphia FIGHT and containing information gathered by Kuromiya, the newsletter was one of the earliest and most comprehensive sources of HIV treatment information.  It was routinely mailed to thousands of people living with HIV all over the world, including hundreds of incarcerated individuals.

Kuromiya understood science and was involved locally, nationally and internationally in AIDS research as both a treatment activist and clinical trials participant.  He fought for research that involved the community in its design – particularly people of color, drug users, and women.

In the last years of his life, Kuromiya turned his attention to the struggle to maintain freedom of speech on the Internet, participating in the successful lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act.  He was also the leading plaintiff in the 1999 Supreme Court case Kuromiya vs. The United States of America, which called for the legalization of marijuana for medical uses.

July 19, 2000
Stephen Gendin — AIDS Activist Icon — Dies

Stephen Gendin, an AIDS activist and writer who founded a nationally known mail-order prescription service for people infected with HIV, died of AIDS-related illness in New York’s Roosevelt Hospital. He was 34.

Learn More.

Firmly planted at the center of AIDS activism for 15 years, Gendin is credited for having promoted constructive changes in government policy that would improve the lives of HIV-positive people. His activism was pivotal in reforming the FDA drug approval process to expedite HIV and AIDS patients’ access to more effective anti-retroviral treatments.

He was involved with ACT UP (New York and Rhode Island chapters), Sex Panic!, Community Prescription Service, and the Radical Faeries.  He also wrote a widely read column in POZ magazine. In this column, he shared the toll AIDS took on his body in graphic details and other personal experiences.

“Stephen was a willing guinea pig, his body a non-stop experimental laboratory for new treatment strategies.  His curiosity and courage contributed to what we have all learned about anti-retroviral treatment,” wrote Sean Strub, POZ Magazine’s founder and advisory editor.

Strub said he met Gendin in 1988, shortly after Gendin graduated from Brown University.  In ACT UP/New York, they worked together on the fundraising committee.  In 1990, Strub hired Gendin to work for his company, and for ten years they collaborated on various projects, including fundraising for community non-profits, publishing POZ magazine and launching the Community Prescription Service.

As a co-founder and the chief executive of the Community Prescription Service, Gendin oversaw the organization’s mail-order pharmacy service that distributed medication and information for people with HIV and AIDS, according to the New York Times.

Following Gendin’s death, POZ posted this video tribute to the legendary activist.

December 22, 2001
Lance Loud of PBS’s ‘American Family’ Dies

Lance Loud, the eldest son in a family made famous in the 1970s by the groundbreaking cinema vérité series An American Family, dies of hepatitis C and HIV-related illness at the Carl Bean hospice in Los Angeles at the age of 50.

Learn More.

On May 30, 1971, the TV documentary An American Family began filming in Santa Barbara, where the Loud family — including then-20-year-old Lance — opened their lives to the world. Considered the first reality TV show, the ground-breaking 12-episode documentary first aired on PBS in January 1973 on Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m.

Lance Loud became a gay icon by coming out to an audience of 10 million TV viewers.  His sexual orientation became a topic of national controversy, but the positive feedback from the gay community led Loud to embrace this role with passion and often self-deprecating wit.

Almost 30 years later, Loud asked Alan and Susan Raymond, the Academy Award-winning filmmakers of the original An American Family series, to film a final episode in the Loud story.  He was dissatisfied with how An American Family ended, and wanted the public to see the Louds as the family he knew them to be.  So the Raymonds filmed Loud and his family as he lived out his final days at the Carl Bean hospice in Los Angeles, and this would become a film, Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family.

Loud was the first reality TV star.  Although he was initially vilified by the media, the American public loved him and found him to be an inspiration.

In 1973, Loud moved to New York City and performed with his high school friend Kristian Hoffman in their resurrected band, the Mumps.  The Mumps flourished for five years in the New York club scene, regularly selling out clubs such as CBGB and Max’s.  The band disbanded in 1980 when it became apparent that record labels weren’t interested.

After the breakup of the Mumps, Loud relocated to Los Angeles and became a magazine writer.  Over the next 20 years, he wrote articles for publications including CircusInterviewAmerican Film, Details, and Vanity Fair.  Loud also had a regular column in The Advocate, “Out Loud,” in which he wrote about his role as a gay icon.

In an article Loud wrote for The Advocate shortly before his death, he said, “Though for years I had told myself that all my unbridled drinking, drugging, and unsafe sex were going to lead exactly here, I’d never really believed it.”

Herb Ritts photo by Richard Gere
December 26, 2002
Fashion & Celebrity Photographer Herb Ritts Dies

Herb Ritts, one of the top photographers to emerge from the 1980s, dies in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at age 50.

(Photo by Richard Gere)

Learn More.

A photographer whose subjects ranged from Madonna to the Dalai Lama, Ritts relied on clean, graphic compositions that often portrayed models and celebrities in the visual language of classical Greek sculpture.

”He shot exquisite, iconic photographs,” said Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, a magazine to which Ritts contributed dozens of cover images.

Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Ritts grew up in a prosperous family and graduated in 1975 from Bard College in upstate New York with a degree in economics (he also majored in Art History).  He returned to Los Angeles to work for his family’s furniture company but was sidetracked when he started taking photography classes.

In the late 1970s, while waiting for a tire to be changed, he took pictures of a young actor friend who was with him that day.  The actor was Richard Gere, and the photographs were ultimately published in various national magazines and served as the catalyst for Ritts’s career as a portraitist.

”His purpose was always to make you look good,” Gere told The New York Times shortly after Ritts’ death. ”He had an extremely elegant aesthetic. Some photographers are working so hard to be elegant that they pummel you with it, but to Herb it came effortlessly.

”Some photographers embalm their subjects, but he enlivened them.”

Listen to Richard Gere tell his story about Herb Ritts.

Unlike many other contemporary commercial photographers, Ritts imposed little of his own sense of artistry onto his pictures.  One of Ritts’s most memorable photographs in this vein was a Vanity Fair cover that featured fashion model Cindy Crawford pretending to shave the face of singer K.D. Lang, who was in drag.

Ritts’s work extended beyond celebrity portraiture to fashion photography, artful nudes and the direction of television commercials and music videos.  He captured the 1980s era of the supermodel with Amazonian images of Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.

For a year from 1996, his work was showcased in Boston at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that was attended by around 250,000 people or more. In 2003, he was given space for a solo exhibition in Japan’s city Kyoto at the Daimaru Museum.

Ritts directed some music videos. In 1989, he directed Cherish by Madonna.  Two years later, he received MTV Video Awards for making videos for Chris Isaak and Janet Jackson.

Ritts was committed to HIV/AIDS-related causes and contributed to many charitable organizations, among them amfAR, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation , Project Angel Food, Focus on AIDS, APLA, Best Buddies, and Special Olympics. He was also a charter member on the Board of Directors for The Elton John AIDS Foundation.

In December 2002, Ritts was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital with pneumonia.  According to Ritts’ publicist, “Herb was HIV-positive, but this particular pneumonia was not PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia), a common opportunistic infection of AIDS.  But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised.”

Prior to his death, Ritts communicated his desire to create a foundation that would carry on his passion for photography and his longstanding charitable support for HIV/AIDS research, advocacy, and care. In 2003, in accordance with his wishes, the Herb Ritts Foundation was established.

Ritts’ photographs continue to be displayed, enjoyed and celebrated across the world.  In 2007, Ritts’ photograph, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989, was sold at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Benefit Auction for $190,000.  The sale of the photograph set a record price for a Herb Ritts limited edition Silver Gelatin photograph, and raised awareness around the Herb Ritts Foundation’s key role in raising funds for HIV/AIDS research.

In 2011, the Getty Museum acquired from the Herb Ritts Foundation a collection of 69 photographs consisting of nudes, portraits, and images made for high-fashion ad campaigns.  The Getty considers this acquisition to be the most significant body of the artist’s work on the West Coast.  The museum’s Ritts exhibit in 2012 drew 364,656 visitors.

In 2015, 20 years after The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston showcased the exhibit Herb Ritts: WORK, the museum presented a collection of his major works.  Even more recently, Ritts’ images have been incorporated into snowboards and his artwork has been displayed in exhibitions in Berlin, Milan, Seoul, Montreal, Lisbon and London.

January 19, 2003
LGBTQ Rights Pioneer Morris Kight Dies at 82

Morris Kight, longtime leader in Southern California’s gay rights movement, dies at the age of 83.

Learn More.

Kight, who served for more than 20 years on the LA Human Rights Commission as its most senior member until his retirement in 2002, dies in his sleep at the Carl Bean Hospice.

He was hospitalized last month in declining health with a variety of ailments, including liver cancer, heart problems and eventually pneumonia. His health was further compromised by a series of strokes suffered late in life.

The co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center of L.A. (now called the Los Angeles LGBT Center), Kight also was a key organizer of the West Coast’s first gay pride parade and celebration in 1970, which effectively galvanized the modern gay rights movement in Los Angeles. The parade has drawn nearly 500,000 people in recent years.

In 1983, Morris helped found Aid for AIDS, a community organization that raised money to give to people with AIDS for emergency payment of rent, mortgages and utilities to enable them to die with dignity at home.

Later a friendship developed between AIDS activist Michael Weinstein, who went on to co-found the Chris Brownlie Hospice in 1987 and subsequently, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, writes the Blade Los Angeles.

His memorial at Metropolitan Community Church in West Hollywood would draw scores of dignitaries and old friends.

October 15, 2003
1st National Latino AIDS Awareness Day

The first annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day in the U.S.

October 23, 2003
Clinton Foundation Secures Generic Drug Price Reductions

The William J. Clinton Foundation secures price reductions for HIV/AIDS drugs from generic manufacturers, to benefit developing nations.

South Africa Advances Treatment Options after Long Fight

Antiretroviral treatment is made available to South African residents living with HIV, marking a reserval in a policy based in AIDS denialism held by the country’s leaders.

Learn More.

For about 10 years, antiretroviral (AVR) drugs for HIV were not accessible by the public in South Africa, due to erroneous beliefs put forth by President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

President Mbeki questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, and the official treatment recommendation for AIDS by Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang was taking beetroot, garlic and other herbal alternatives.  Their delay in rolling out HIV/AIDS treatment is estimated to have needlessly caused the death of millions.

However, South African activists ultimately won their decade-long fight to bring modern HIV/AIDS treatment options to the people in their country.

“There was a sense, especially for those of us living with HIV, that we might not be the ones that benefited from the struggle and that we were perhaps really doing this for the next generation,” said Vuyiseka Dubula, former general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African group founded in 1998 to fight for access to HIV treatment.

Born in the former Transkei province of South Africa, Dubula was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 22 in 2001, at the height of AIDS denialism in her country.

“When I first learned of my HIV status, science had already gifted humanity with drugs to treat the virus,” Dubula wrote in The Guardian in 2021.  “However, South Africans like myself, and many other people living in poverty, continued to die in the millions. The highly effective antiretroviral therapy cost nearly $10,000, well beyond our reach.”

During its first decade, TAC focused on challenging government health policies that were not evidence-based and were putting multinational profits above people.  The organization’s leaders also forged alliances with activists in Brazil, India, Thailand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, creating a global movement to fight drug company profiteering.  TAC went to court to challenge the patents of drug companies that sold essential HIV/AIDS medication without competition, according to Debula.

By gathering affidavits of people living with HIV and health care workers, together with evidence of prices from the generic drug industry, TAC was able to expose the drug companies’ profiteering methods and pressure South Africa’s Competition Commission to open the market to allow more drug companies to compete.

As a result, South Africa adopted a more competitive market and the price of HIV drugs drastically fell.  TAC activists then pushed the government to expand access to HIV treatment, but they were countered by an extremely hostile political environment.

“Under the leadership of former President Thabo Mbeki, the Health Ministry focused on making excuses for why government was unable to provide HIV treatment,” recalled Dubula.  “It eventually became clear that we were dealing with a denialist government that went so far as to publicly refute the crisis in the health system.”

TAC organized volunteers to create and manage grassroots branches across South Africa that educated, organized, and mobilized communities.  Human rights and the science behind HIV were the subjects of TAC campaigns in all these newly activated locations.  Over time, TAC’s efforts led to a new awareness about HIV/AIDS and treatment options, and that’s when things began to change.

With ARVs’ introduction as the recommended treatment for HIV, thousands of patients immediately began a course of recovery, according to Dr. Francois Venter, deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Centre in South Africa.

For Dubula, the victory meant she could live a normal life.  She would go on to marry an HIV-negative man and give birth to two HIV-negative children.  She completed her Ph.D. at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and left TAC to become Program Director at Sonke Gender Justice, which strives to
advance gender justice and women’s rights, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS.

January 6, 2005
Son of South African Leader Nelson Mandela Dies

Makgatho L. Mandela dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 54.  On the day of his son’s death, Nelson Mandela announces the cause of the death to help raise awareness about the disease and reduce the stigma associated with it.

Learn More.

Nelson Mandela holds a press conference to announce that his son had died of AIDS in a Johannesburg clinic.  Makgatho Mandela had been seriously ill for more than a month, but the nature of his ailment had not been made public before his death.

The elder Mandela says he was disclosing the cause of his son’s death to focus more attention on AIDS, which is still a taboo topic among many South Africans.  South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV (~6.8 million) in the world.

“That is why I have announced that my son has died of AIDS,” he says. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.”

May 19, 2005
1st National Asian/Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This day marks the first annual National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in the U.S.

Learn More.

This day would be observed annually on May 19 to raise awareness about the impact of HIV and stigma among Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

In years to come, organizations around the country would observe the day by hosting community events.  The Banyan Tree Project – a national campaign to end silence and shame about HIV/AIDS in Asian and Pacific Islander communities — leads this day with the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in collaboration with national partners APAIT Los Angeles, Life Foundation (Honolulu) and MAP for Health (Boston). The campaign includes capacity building assistance, leadership development and HIV awareness promotional events and marketing.

Life Group LA
POZ Life Weekend Seminars Begin in LA Area

Life Group LA launches its POZ Life Weekend Seminar, a place HIV+ men, women, youths and family members can come be themselves, feel comforted and receive support in their effort to live a long, healthy life.

Learn More.

The POZ Life event is free and focused on the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of people living with HIV and those who support them through education, empowerment and emotional support.

The goal of the program is to empower people to make informed choices and decisions regarding their healthcare and personal well-being.  The POZ Life Weekend Seminar is also open to those seeking to help someone HIV-positive and overcome the fears associated with HIV.

At the event, which still is held four times a year in the LA area and also in major cities across the U.S., a team of facilitators lead emotional support groups.  These facilitators have been trained in the art of active listening and conduct themselves with empathy and compassion.

A minimum of 10 workshops are offered during each weekend seminar, dealing with but not limited to: HIV Drug Treatment Options, Insurance and Public Benefits, U=U, PreP, Stress Management, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Nutrition, Women and HIV, Medication Adherence, Recreational Drug Use, Clinical Trials, Sex and Intimacy and HIV Disclosure. Workshops at the event are known to be extremely interactive, with presenters welcoming questions and comments from attendees.

For more information about the Life Group LA and its events, please go to http://thelifegroupla.org/

Bob Hattoy
March 4, 2007
Activist & Clinton Advisor Bob Hattoy Dies

Bob Hattoy, an activist who spoke about AIDS at the 1992 Democratic Convention, dies of AIDS-related illness at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento at the age of 56.

[Portrait by Greg Loudon, for an art series for the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine]

Learn More.

Hattoy quit his decades-long job as regional director of the Sierra Club in Los Angeles to join Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign during the 1992 primary.  Shortly thereafter, he learned that he had AIDS-related lymphoma and began chemotherapy treatments.  That didn’t stop him from stumping for Clinton in front of AIDS and gay and lesbian communities all over the nation.

Political activist and author David Mixner remembered well Hattoy’s groundbreaking speech to the delegates of the 1992 Democratic Convention, made shortly after receiving his diagnosis.

“The hall was in the usual hubbub that passes for normal even when speeches are going on. But as Bob Hattoy mounted the podium, stillness fell over the entire place,” Mixner recalled.  “One by one, the delegates stood up, until all 5,000 people were on their feet in respect.”

Hattoy then said the opening words of his speech: “This is difficult.”

“There was not a dry eye in the nation that night,” said Mixner.  “Those of us in the hall had black armbands to honor those we knew who had died of ADIS and held onto each other as he spoke.  It was as if at last we were finally being heard after a decade of horror, death and abandonment.”

Jackie McCort of the Sierra Club said of watching her former colleague at the convention: “We gathered around the TV together that night, so thrilled and touched that ‘one of our own’ was speaking so eloquently to the American people.  Doggone, we were proud!”

Beginning in 1993, Hattoy worked in the Clinton administration as a deputy in the White House Office of Personnel.  In the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House was Hattoy’s office, which he shared with a colleague.  On his desk was a rainbow pride flag and on the walls were photos of he and his boyfriend.

There, he spent most of his days overseeing the search and screening process for potential hires for midlevel posts in agencies like the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency.  But Hattoy also saw his role as largely that of internal agitator, checking up almost every day on the progress of issues with more senior officials and sharing those developments with key members of his network.

“I never think of Bob as someone on the White House staff,” said activist Larry Kramer.  “I think of him as our mole.”

In March 1993, when President Clinton said he was considering restrictions on the roles gays and lesbians might be allowed to take in the military, Hattoy compared that to “restricting gays and lesbians to jobs as florists and hairdressers” in civilian life.  This public outburst branded Hattoy as unpredictible and potentially problematic to the Clinton administration.

In a June 1993 wine-fueled interview with The New York Times, Hattoy said, “Basically, I’m an activist first and a White House employee second.  If they fire me, I’ll go to work in a lesbian bakery. But they won’t fire me. We’ve been in too many wars together.”

The next year, to decrease his visibility, the administration appointed him to the position of White House liaison on environmental matters at the Interior Department, where he remained until 1999.  He also served as chairman of the research committee of the Presidential Commission on HIV/AIDS.

“Having been a lobbyist and activist for 20 years, I’d be perfect on the Hill or with community groups or other political coalitions they need to maintain relationships with and keep going — I mean with the progressive community,” Hattoy told POZ magazine in April 1994.  “I originally wanted to do that. That didn’t happen, I think, because — well, I know why.”

“For 25 years, I’ve been an outspoken activist, outspoken about what I’ve believed in and cared about. And for a while that fit perfectly into helping to identify who Bill Clinton was as a human being, to show that he meant it when he talked about how there’s no such thing as Them and Us in America,” he explained.  “When I continued to speak out after the election, it became off-message, I think a lot of people in the White House didn’t know what to do with me.”

A few years after the White House job ended, California Governor Gray Davis appointed him to the California Fish & Game Commisison, which Hattoy promptly joked he would work to rename the “Swish and Fish Commission.”  The post was unpaid and required hundreds of hours of work, with more than a dozen public hearings each year, site inspections, lobbying and other responsibilities.

In the months before his death, he worked on the California Marine Protection Act, creating huge expanses of sea that are like protected state parkland, only underwater.  For environmentalists and preservationists, the legislation was an historic victory, for which Hattoy deserved much of the credit.  Soon after, he was elected Chairman of the commission.

Throughout the years, Hattoy battled recurrent pneumonia and other complications several times and suffered a bone marrow infection a few weeks before his death, but was generally healthy and extremely productive throughout his years with AIDS.

Following Hattoy’s death, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a joint statement:

“We have lost a pioneer, a leader, and a friend. Bob Hattoy devoted his life to the fight for civil rights and social justice for the gay community and people living with AIDS.  We will always be grateful for his courageous and moving speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and afterward, for his years of dedicated service in the administration. He gave hope to a community that feared their voice would never be heard at the highest levels of government.”

July 7, 2007
Social Justice Leader Ferd Eggan Dies

Ferd Eggan, longtime HIV/AIDS activist and leader of Los Angeles city services, dies at his home in Hollywood at age 60 after a six-month illness complicated by HIV.

Learn More.

While serving as AIDS Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles between 1993 and 2001, Ferd opened doors for the funding of self-organized programs for women with AIDS, city authorization of and funding for needle exchanges, housing for People With AIDS who might still be active drug users, and a landmark study and intervention program for gay men using crystal meth.

Eggan’s activism began during his college days at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, initially in the southern black civil rights movement and later in anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, women’s and gay liberation and HIV/AIDS struggles.

“Picture me and a Black GI on leave from Vietnam, in his car in the moonlight, windows steamy, ducking as headlights swept past,” Eggan wrote in his autobiographical essayFags and Dykes Want Everything: Dreaming with the Gay Liberation Front.  “We could be beaten or killed for what we were doing.”

In the years that followed, Eggan traveled between New York City (where he was around the corner from Christopher Street on the first night of the Stonewall riots, but was “too afraid to join in”) and San Francisco.  In 1972, while appearing as an extra in a San Francisco Opera production of Aida, Eggan and two others unfurled a banner from the stage reading, “Dykes and Fags Support the Vietnamese Peace Plan.”

Eggan returned to the Chicago area with his then-partner, documentary filmmaker Carel Rowe, where he soon joined the Chicago chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. He worked for a while with a childcare co-op run by women connected with the “Jane” group, which helped women get underground abortions, and he taught Puerto Rican high school students for 11 years.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, Eggan helped to found ACT UP Chicago and the national ACT UP PISD Caucus (People with Immune System Disorders), before moving to Los Angeles in 1990 to become Executive Director of Being Alive.

In 1993, Eggan became the city’s third AIDS coordinator, a position created in 1989 by then-Mayor Tom Bradley to spearhead the development of a comprehensive local approach to combating the spread of AIDS.  He served in this position until 2001, when he became too ill to continue in the job.

After retiring on disability, he concentrated on his creative writing, journalism, video art, and his blog, “Communiques from a Cranky PWA.”  In June 2007, less than three weeks before his death, the Los Angeles City Council honored Eggan for his service.

“We would not be where we are today if it had not been for people like Ferd,” said Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who in 1981 authored the first medical case report that heralded the advent of AIDS. “Part of the founding generation of AIDS activists, he has been involved with AIDS for the life of the epidemic. Even if there were activist leaders waiting in the wings — and regrettably there aren’t — Ferd Eggan would be irreplaceable.”

His long-term friend Walt Senterfit, national board chair of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, said, “He was a warrior, strategist, writer, artist, activist, and friend in the political, social, and intellectual movements for liberation of our time.”

Uganda Hosts HIV/AIDS Implementers Meeting; Activists Arrested

HIV/AIDS implementers from around the world gather in Kampala, Uganda for the 2008 HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting, where three activists were arrested by Ugandan police.

Learn More.

In recognition of the rapid expansion of HIV/AIDS programs worldwide, the focus of the meeting was building the capacity of local prevention, treatment, and care programs; enhancing quality; and promoting coordination among partners.

A total of 1,700 attendees convened at the meeting, representing governments, nongovernmental organizations including faith- and community-based groups, multilateral organizations, the private sector, and groups of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Cosponsors of the four-day conference include the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS); the World Health Organization (WHO); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the World Bank; and GNP+ (the Global Network of People Living with HIV).

During the conference, three Ugandan LGBT activists were arrested as they protested the statements made by a Ugandan government official who refused to direct funds toward HIV programs that targeted men who have sex with men.

The Uganda Police Force arrested and detained Pepe Julian “Patience” Onziema, Valentine Kalende and Usaam “Auf” Mukwaya — all members of the LGBT organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) — when the three activists took the stage at the conference to distribute leaflets and hold up small placards demanding attention to HIV vulnerability among the LGBT community.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission immediately issued a press release condemning the arrests of the activists and calling for their immediate and unconditional release.  The commission expressed concern for the safety of the activists, and noted the Ugandan government routinely discriminated against those speaking up for the LGBT community.

On July 25, a few hours after the activists attended their hearing for their arrest, Kampala police officers abducted one of the activists, Usaam “Auf” Mukwaya, as he returned his hotel.

A patrol car stopped the taxi he was riding in and four men identifying themselves as police officers abducted him and took him to a location where he was held for more than 24 hours without access to a lawyer or any reason provided for his arrest.

Mukwaya told Human Rights Watch that his abductors asked him questions in Luganda, a local dialect, about SMUG’s funders and supporters, and about his own role “among the homosexuals.” They also demanded he give them information about other individuals involved in LGBT rights.

According to Mukwaya, three police officers pushed him through a dark corridor to a room where they sat him on a chair.  Mukwaya reported seeing four other men in the room; they were close to his own age and appeared to have been beaten.  One appeared to have a broken leg.

One of the abductors scraped his knuckles with a razor-like object.  Another tied him to a machine that stretched his arms.  After forcing Mukwaya to strip to his underwear, they asked him if he was a man or a woman, and made him walk around the room unclothed.

The following day, they released him, dropping him on the streets of central Kampala.

Human Rights Watch would issue a statement decrying the treatment of government officials of Mukwaya and noting that “torture and ill-treatment is a pervasive problem” for the LGBT community in Uganda.

October 27, 2010
Actress & Early AIDS Prevention Advocate Zelda Rubinstein Dies at 76

Zelda Rubinstein, the diminutive character actress who used her fame from the 1982 movie Poltergeist to advocate for AIDS awareness, dies of natural causes at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 76.

Learn More.

“She was one of the very first Hollywood celebrities to speak out on HIV and AIDS,” said Craig E. Thompson, then-executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

“It was the first AIDS education and prevention campaign in Los Angeles and one of the very first in the United States,” added Thompson, who said calls to the HIV/AIDS hotline “skyrocketed after the campaign came out.”

Rubinstein told the Los Angeles Times in 1985 that she was looking for a way to get involved in the fight against AIDS when she was approached to play the mother in the campaign L.A. CARES (Los Angeles Cooperative AIDS Risk-Reduction Education Service), which was launched by the organization now known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

In TV spots, she played the mother pleading with an unseen son to “play safely.”  In videos that were shown in gay bars, the sons appeared as bare-chested young men.  The campaign featuring Rubinstein’s “mother” character also included a series of ads in newspapers and on billboards and buses.

In one ad, Rubinstein is seen wearing an apron and talking to her “son,” who is clad only in shorts and holding an umbrella.  At the bottom, it says, “L.A. CARES . . . like a mother.”

In addition to her scene-stealing turns as the psychic Tangina in the Poltergeist horror films, Rubinstein also had roles in the movies Frances, Sixteen Candles, Teen Witch, Anguish and Southland Tales, and the TV series Picket Fences (1992-1996), on which she was a regular.

Elizabeth Taylor
March 23, 2011
AIDS Activist Elizabeth Taylor Dies at Age 79

AIDS activist and award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor dies of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Learn More.

In the mid-1980s, Taylor became the most prominent celebrity to back what was then a very unfashionable cause: AIDS research, prevention and care.  It started with a 1984 dinner benefit for the nonprofit AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), for which she began calling her A-list friends to solicit their support.

“She took this energy that she used to have a career, and she put it into AIDS, for no other reason than her friend [Rock Hudson] had gotten ill,” AIDS activist and comic writer-performer Bruce Vilanch said at a 2021 event hosted by the Foundation for The AIDS Monument.  “The reason Elizabeth was so successful was everybody in the world would take her call — even the Pope — if only to discuss jewelry.”

Over the years, Taylor reportedly was responsible for raising more than $270 million and influencing countless elected officials to support the cause.

In 1985, she, along with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Mathilde Krim, founded the non-profit American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).  Immediately, Taylor began lobbying then-President Ronald Reagan and members of Congress to address the epidemic by allocating funds to research the treatment and prevention of the virus.  In 1986, she appeared in amfAR’s first public service TV ads to heighten AIDS awareness and encourage compassion for people with AIDS.  Taylor was instrumental in expanding amfAR’s operations to other countries.

In 1991, she founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF), a non-profit organization that took a more personal approach to the AIDS epidemic.  With ETAF, Taylor sought to advocate for and provide direct care to those who faced the highest levels of stigma, marginalization, and discrimination.  Today, ETAF continues to carry forward Taylor’s mission, with heart and hope, until the end of HIV/AIDS.

Taylor testified before the Senate and House for the Ryan White Care Act in 1986, 1990, and 1992.  She persuaded President Reagan to acknowledge the disease for the first time in a speech in 1987, and publicly criticized presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for not doing enough to combat the disease.

Taylor also founded the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to offer free HIV/AIDS testing and care at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, DC, and the Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund for the UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education Center in Los Angeles.

For her advocacy work, Taylor was honored with several awards; she was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 1987, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993, the Screen Actors’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanitarian service in 1997, the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2000, and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.

After her death, GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios issued a statement saying that “Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community, where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve.”

According to Paul Flynn of The Guardian, she was “a new type of gay icon, one whose position is based not on tragedy, but on her work for the LGBTQ community.”[140] Speaking of her charity work, former President Bill Clinton said at her death, “Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired.”

Since Taylor’s death, her estate has continued to fund ETAF’s work, donating 25% of royalties from the use of her image and likeness to the foundation.

June 8, 2011
HHS Commemorates 30 Years of Leadership in Fighting HIV/AIDS

HHS Secretary Sebelius hosted “Commemorating 30 Years of Leadership in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS”.

January 24, 2012
Josh Robbins Invites World to Witness His HIV Test Results

Josh Robbins receives nationwide attention, raising awareness about HIV, when he records the interaction with his doctor as he receives the results of his HIV test (he tested positive).

Learn More.

In the opening of the video, which can be seen on YouTube, Robbins says, “If the news is that I am positive, then I’m going to get a plane ticket, jump on a plane, and go and tell my family.”

Next, we see him walking to Roosevelt Hospital in Nashville and taking an elevator to the third floor, where the clinic is located.  The camera is turned off, but we could hear Robbins’ conversation with the doctor, who tells him, “Your viral load right now is at 5,517,000.”

We then see Robbins coming out of the clinic, looking stunned as he mutters, “Alright … positive.”

Once outside the hospital, he makes an attempt to collect himself, announcing his HIV-positive status and his plans to return home to Jacksonville, Tennessee, so he can “tell my mom face-to-face.”

Robbins posted the video on his Facebook page and then on YouTube.  He was motivated to do this, because he was struck by the fact that he didn’t know anyone else in Nashville who was HIV-positive and he felt he needed to warn the men in his city “that we are not invincible.”

Less than a month after being told he tested positive for HIV, he started a blog called “I’m Still Josh” to help start a dialogue about living with HIV in the South.  He would help spread the word to his peers that an epidemic of new infections was occurring, and he would offer advice about prevention.  He also sought to create a simple message to break down the stigma attached with HIV in Nashville:  “I’m still Josh. You still be YOU!”

He would go on to be a frequent contributor to POZ magazine and win awards for his advocacy work about sexual health and HIV.  Robbins’ work also has been featured on The Advocate, Human Rights Campaign, Healthline, and a myriad of additional publications.  Robbins was named to the POZ 100 List in 2013.

In 2014, Robbins created an iPhone application called Ask HIV, described by Product Hunt as “an HIV/AIDS hotline on your iPhone.”  During the Obama administration, Robbins helped lead the White House’s social media plan for the update of the President’s National HIV Strategy.

From 2013 to 2000, Healthline.com elected Robbins’ blog to its list of Best Blogs List for HIV for eight consecutive years).  He supports local HIV/AIDS organizations, including Nashville CARES and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

July 21, 2012
AIDS Memorial Quilt Displayed in its Entirety

During AIDS 2012, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed in its entirety in Washington, DC, for the first time since 1996.

Learn More.

Volunteers have to rotate nearly 50,000 panels to ensure that the entire work is displayed. Microsoft Research, the University of Southern California, the NAMES Project Foundation, and a handful of other institutions collaborate to create a zoomable “map” of the Quilt

August 6, 2012
John Grant Discloses HIV+ Status at UK’s Meltdown Festival

Musician John Grant takes the stage to sing as a part of the Hercules and Love Affair collective as a part of the Meltdown Festival in the U.K. and announces that he is HIV positive.

Learn More.

Grant, who is openly gay, was diagnosed as HIV+ in 2011, after being contacted by a former lover who tested positive for HIV.

In an interview for The Sydney Morning Herald, Grant spoke candidly of his diagnosis:

“I was messing around with my life and indulging in destructive behaviors and ended up getting a disease that could have totally been avoided.  When I look at the fact that there are millions of children in Africa with HIV, who never got to choose, it makes me need to figure out why I let that happen to myself.”

Born in a small Colorado town, the singer-songwriter decided to break with his band the Czars in 2010 and embarked on a solo career.  His debut solo album Queen of Denmark was named the best album of 2010 by Mojo, and his third studio album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015), received widespread critical acclaim

In addition to music, Grant has a strong interest in languages and can speak fluent German, Spanish and Russian, as well as conversational French and Swedish.  He currently lives in Reykjavik, Iceland and is in a long-term relationship with an Icelandic graphic designer.

Spencer Cox (2)
December 18, 2012
NYC Activist Spencer Cox Dies

Treatment Action Group founder Spencer Cox died in New York of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44 after he stopped taking his HIV medications.

Learn More.

As an activist during the height of the AIDS Crisis in New York, Cox helped facilitate the production of protease inhibitors, which revolutionized AIDS care in the 1990s.

In 1992, Cox joined with other ACT UP members to form the Treatment Action Group, which worked to further treatment advances in HIV.  Along with other TAG colleagues, Cox schooled himself in the science of AIDS, the workings of drug trials and the government approval process.

While still in his 20s, he represented people with AIDS in high-level meetings with the Federal Drug Administration to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications, including the new drug class of protease inhibitors.

In addition, Cox designed a clinical trial to examine the effectiveness of ritonavir, which was initially controversial because no one wanted to receive a placebo.  Cox’s design, however, allowed for both speedy data gathering and a relatively accelerated approval process so that those receiving a placebo could quickly be upgraded to the medication.  The quick study and approval of ritonavir, along with the rival drug indinavir, had a dramatic effect on HIV treatment.

Cox continued to be an HIV/AIDS advocate into the 2000s.  Concerned with issues faced by gay men, including loneliness, depression and substance abuse, he founded the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health in 2006.  However, Cox was forced to abandon the project when funding was not made available, and he returned to his home town of Atlanta.

In 2012, Cox returned to New York and, shortly thereafter, was featured in the documentary film How to Survive a Plague.

“One of the visceral things the film brought back for me is the rage that is still almost as fresh as the days when I first discovered it,” he wrote in a blog post for POZ magazine.

“Footage of virulently homophobic North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms reminds me even today of how much I hate (present tense) this man,” he wrote.  “His colleagues, including New York’s John Cardinal O’Connor, Mayor Ed Koch, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Patrick Buchanan, even the low-level Reagan press staffer who, in a transcript of an early White House daily briefing, is asked about AIDS, and reduces it to a smutty joke worthy of a quick chuckle.  Karma be damned — I hate these men, and probably will until the day I die.”

A few months after his blog post, Cox was found severly ill in his apartment by his roommate, Mark Leydorf, upon his return home after a couple days away.  Leydorf called an ambulance, which took them to the Allen Hospital, a branch of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, on 220th Street and Broadway. There, doctors found that Cox’s T-cells were virtually gone and that his viral load was through the roof.

Less than a week later, Cox died at the hospital.  Afterward, on The Huffington Post and other Web sites, a furious debate ensued about just what Cox’s death represented.

“Was it ‘pill fatigue,’ a term applied to patients who grow exhausted taking a variety of medications daily and then become noncompliant?  Why would Mr. Cox devote his life to obtaining lifesaving medications for people all over the world, only to stop taking them himself?” wrote Jacob Bernstein in The New York Times.  “Was Mr. Cox trying to kill himself after several years in which the side effects had been nearly as bad as the disease?  Or could crystal meth have been to blame?”

Mark Harrington, the executive director of TAG, said Cox had been struggling with an addiction to methamphetamines and had stopped taking his HIV medication some months ago.

“He saved the lives of millions, but he couldn’t save his own,” Harrington said.

However, David France, director of How to Survive a Plague, said, “There was some temptation to conclude Spencer was doing drugs at the end of his life, but there’s no evidence of that that we know of.”

According to Walt Odets, a clinical psychologist in Berkeley who knew Cox and has written extensively about the aftereffects of HIV on long-term survivors, the epidemic did not end for the veterans of Act Up when therapeutic drugs came along.

“It was an extraordinary trauma comparable to a wartime experience,” Dr. Odets said. “For many gay men, after the epidemic was over, there was a loss of energy and vitality.  It’s like going from a car that runs on rocket fuel to one that runs on gasoline.  And it had to be bewildering for Spencer.”

The year after Cox’s death, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center (now Mount Sinai Morningside) memorialized the activist by renaming their long-time HIV clinic the Spencer Cox Center for Health.


October 13, 2013
National Latino/Hispanic HIV/AIDS Action Agenda Published

The National Latino AIDS Action Network (NLAAN)—a diverse coalition of community-based organizations, national organizations, state and local health departments, researchers and concerned individuals—publishes the National Latino/Hispanic HIV/AIDS Action Agenda to raise awareness, identify priorities, and issue specific recommendations to address the impact of the epidemic in Hispanic/Latino communities.

September 11, 2016
Actress Alexis Arquette Dies

Transgender trailblazer Alexis Arquette dies at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.

Learn More.

Arquette was born into an acting family that includes siblings David, Rosanna, and Patricia, the latter who would famously memorialize her sister in a speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards.

In the earlier years of her career, Arquette primarily performed as a female impersonator, frequently under the name “Eva Destruction.”  She debuted on the big screen in 1986 in an uncredited role as Alexis, the androgynous bandmate of Max Whiteman (Evan Richards) inDown and Out in Beverly Hills.  Arquette would go on to star in more than 40 movies, the majority of them low-budget or independent films.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1989, Arquette chronicled her gender affirmation surgery in a 2007 documentary, Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother, but returned to presenting as a man in 2013 as her health failed.

In her final hours, Arquette is surrounded by her famous brothers and sisters.  Alexis had left specific instructions for her death: David Bowie’s “Starman” was to play as her final moments approached.

And when the final breath passed her lips, she asked that everyone cheer “the moment that [s]he transitioned to another dimension,” reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Her family would go on to found the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation, which works with the LA County / USC Medical Center to provide medical and mental health support to LGBTQ residents in the county.

December 27, 2016
APLA Founder Matt Redman Dies

Matt Redman, one of the cofounders of AIDS Project Los Angeles, dies at the age of 66. Instrumental in spurring the LA community to action during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Redman dedicated his life to the fight against HIV.

Learn More.

Redman began his HIV/AIDS advocacy work in 1982, when he helped to create the first hotline in Los Angeles to share verified medical information about the disease.  In early 1983, he would found AIDS Project Los Angeles with Nancy Cole Sawaya, Max Drew, and Ervin Munro.

In the beginning, APLA had five clients, which would grow to 100 by the end of the year, and by the middle of 1984, APLA would serve 200 clients — and the numbers kept growing.  Redman served on APLA’s Board of Directors and volunteered throughout the years.

Redman also served on the Board of Directors for the Federation of AIDS-Related Organizations (later renamed AIDS United).  He was honored in June 2015 by the LA City Council during LGBT Heritage Month for his work to advance equality.

Redman apparently started feeling ill in mid-December and cancelled a party planned for Dec. 18, according to journalist Karen Ocamb in The Pride.  After a friend begged him to see a doctor, Redman went to the emergency room at Southern California Hospital at Culver City and was immediately rushed to Urgent Care.

An upper respiratory infection had traveled to his heart and lungs, and medical personnel determined he didn’t have enough T-cells to fight the infection.  He “coded” and was placed on life support while his family and former partner were notified and flew in to be with him in his last moments.

Rainbow Flag
March 31, 2017
Gilbert Baker — Creator of Rainbow Flag — Dies

Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the iconic rainbow flag in 1978, dies in his sleep in New York at the age of 65.

Learn More.

In the early years of the AIDS crisis, the rainbow flag would emerge as a symbol for LGBTQ rights around the world.  Baker initially designed an eight-color flag for San Francisco’s gay freedom day in 1978, the precursor to the modern pride parade.  Each of the eight colors represented a different aspect of humanity:

  • Pink – sexuality
  • Red – life
  • Orange – healing
  • Yellow- sunlight
  • Green – nature
  • Turquoise – art
  • Indigo – harmony
  • Violet – human spirit

LGBT icon Harvey Milk, who was a friend of Baker’s, marched under the first rainbow flag in the June 1978 Gay Freedom parade, just months before he was assassinated.

By 1979, Baker dropped two colors — pink and turquoise — largely because fabrics and dyes in those shades weren’t always readily available, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.  The six-color flag — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple — is what became globally recognized.

Baker was born in Kansas in 1951 and served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972, which stationed him in San Francisco in the early days of the gay liberation movement.  His story as a soldier is told in the book Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts.

After Baker was honourably discharged from the Army, he taught himself to sew and began a career in flag-making which would include creating designs and displays for several world leaders including the presidents of France, Venezuela and the Philippines.

In June of 1994, Gilbert achieved a world’s record when he created a mile-long Rainbow Flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot 1969 in New York City. The banner measured 30 x 5,280 ft. and was carried by 5,000 people. The project was underwritten by Stadtlander’s Pharmacy, a California pharmacy which was a principal distributor of a variety of HIV/AIDS medications.

Former San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy wrote about his recollection for the Bay Area Reporter of how the Rainbow Flag came to be installed at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francsco:

“In 1997, at the Castro Street Fair, I was standing with Baker in Jane Warner Plaza and then-mayor Willie Brown was approaching with his entourage. Baker was keenly aware that the mayor was promoting public art … Baker and I approached the mayor and Baker, with all of his glorious and passionate energy, pitched the idea for his work of art, the installation of a giant flagpole flying the rainbow flag — an idea he had spent 10 years developing.”

Baker never made money on the Rainbow Flag. With the help of a young lawyer named Matt Coles, he blocked the Pride Foundation’s attempt to trademark the flag, insisting that flag belonged to everyone.

“Gilbert was our own Betsy Ross,” said Sheehy, who worked with Baker in the 1990s on political causes. “He was a genius at political theater, at political art. He’s one of these heroes who never sought attention for himself. But he was relentless.”

One of his last works shortly before he died was the creation of concentration camp uniforms with pink triangles foreshadowing then-President Donald Trump’s march toward a fascist regime. Baker presented these in a gallery in the Castro, and they were also included in the Pink Triangle installation during San Francisco Pride in 2017.

After Baker’s death, the rainbow flag was raised in his honor near Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco.  A candlelight vigil was held for him at Castro and Market streets, beneath his flag.

In 2021, a segment of Baker’s original Rainbow Flag, which was thought to be lost since 1978, was recently rediscovered and donated to the San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives.  The hand-stitched and dyed 28-foot-long banner was been permanently installed in the museum.

August 27, 2017
Muslim American Faith Organizations Take Stand Against Stigma

Muslim-American organization RAHMA (Arabic for “mercy”) launches the first national Faith HIV & AIDS Awareness Day.

Learn More.

The goal is to rally U.S. faith communities (including Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Baha’i) to take a public stand against stigma in their congregations and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.

November 12, 2017
Performance Artist & HIV Educator Antron-Reshaud Olukayode Dies

Atlanta performance artist, writer, and HIV educator Antron-Reshaud Olukayode dies of AIDS-related illness at age 33. Olukayode had participated in CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign.

January 15, 2018
AIDS Pioneer Dr. Mathilde Krim Dies at Age 91

Dr. Mathilde Krim, a geneticist and virologist who turned from studying cancer to studying AIDS, dies at age 91 . She started the AIDS Medical Foundation in 1983, and then became the founding chairwoman of the Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985.

Learn More.

She raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS research, prevention, treatment, and advocacy. In announcing her passing, The New York Times calls her “America’s foremost warrior in the battle against superstitions, fears and prejudices that have stigmatized many people with AIDS.”

Dr. Krim, a geneticist and virologist, as well as an advocate, has a long history of notable contributions to science and social justice.

After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1953, she studied cytogenetics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  Six years later, she moved to New York and made a name for herself as a researcher of cancer-causing viruses. But in the early 1980s, her focus turned to a growing epidemic that almost no one else had yet sought to address.

Less than a year after the publishing of a 1982 paper in which the disease was first called by that name, Dr. Krim founded the AIDS Medical Foundation, the first privately funded AIDS research organization, which originally operated out of a storage room in her husband’s Manhattan office.

The stigma at that time was overwhelming: A former staff member recalls that “The mail guy was scared to come up to our office because it said ‘AIDS’ on our envelopes [which often contained hate mail anyway].”

AmfAR credits Dr. Krim as being a pivotal figure in moving Washington to belatedly provide significant funding for both research and treatment regarding the epidemic, after nearly a decade of neglect.

AmfAR grew out of Dr. Krim’s collaboration with Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, who in New York in the early 1980s pioneered a community-based approach to studying and responding to AIDS. With other allies, they formed the AIDS Medical Foundation in 1983, which two years later merged with a California-based group to form amfAR.

In addition to her scientific credentials and her impassioned advocacy, Dr. Krim also brought a connection to New York society life and its deep pockets, with her marriage to Arthur B. Krim, an entertainment lawyer who had chaired both United Artists and Orion Pictures. Dr. Krim was able to bring on board Elizabeth Taylor, who became the group’s founding international chair and lent Hollywood glamour and universal visibility to an epidemic that in its earliest years was ignored by public officials and other leading figures .

In 2006, ACT UP Founder Larry Kramer said of Dr. Krim, “One can only be filled with overpowering awe and gratitude that such a person has lived among us.”

March 7, 2019
Longtime AIDS Survivor Jim Chud Dies

Jim Chud, who may have been among the first people in the U.S. to exhibit symptoms of HIV/AIDS, dies of sepsis, most likely after a bacterial pneumonia, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 62.

Learn More.

A longtime resident of West Hollywood, Chud had served on the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board and on the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV.  He was also a prolific writer, having been published by publications like Huffington Post, among others.  In 2015, he was included in the “POZ 100” for his advocacy for appropriately designed housing for disabled people.

In late 1977, while a sophomore at Yale, Chud was hospitalized with symptoms that would become familiar to medical personnel in just a few years: night sweats, a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and thrush.  At the time, however, Chud’s medical team was unable to come to a diagnosis.  When his symptoms subsided in about two weeks, the doctor discharged him, saying, “You probably had some sort of virus.”

The official beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is often cited as June 5, 1981, the day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first warning about a rare pneumonia called pneumocystis circulating among a small group of young gay men.  However, according to Science Magazine, a 2016 study indicated that in 1981, when Dr. Michael Gottlieb presented the first five cases  to the CDC, there were already 250,000 people living with the virus.  Chud was one of them.

By 1985, Chud was living in Washington and had already watched many of his friends get sick and die.  In 1989, his own illness had advanced to full-blown AIDS.

“I thought I was going to die,” Chud told CNN in 2010. “I didn’t think I would see 30.”

He started volunteering for drug trials. One, a National Institutes of Health study, studied the combination of drugs AZT and DDC, a new drug by Roche Pharmaceuticals.

“DDC, while effective in the test-tube against HIV, was very toxic, and put all 80 of us study participants through a whole host of side effects,” recalled Chud in 2017 article he wrote for Plus. “The mouth sores were legendary. Eating required first gargling with Lidobenelox, a thick pink emulsion of lidocaine, benadryl, and Maalox. It resembled the hand soap in public restrooms, but it provided 20 minutes of pain relief.”

Chud was pulled from the drug trial when he began experiencing partial paralysis and lockjaw.  While these symptoms dissipated after a few days, Chud had unknowingly sustained long-term damage to his body’s cartilage.  By 2003, he was in so much pain, he sought treatment from an orthopedic surgeon, who uncovered extensive damage to Chud’s spine.

Between 2003 and 2015, Chud underwent over 80 operations on his spine, neck, and major joints.  Through all this, he lost 7 inches in height because of destroyed disks, leaving less room for his lungs, bowel and stomach.

In 2009, he began using a four-wheeled walker to be able to walk.  Prior to that, he had given little thought to what it was like to live with a disability, but this new experience motivated him to become an advocate for himself and other long-term HIV survivors who live with disabilities.

“My drive to do something for other disabled people shifted into hyper-drive from that moment on,” Chud wrote.

Chud was aware of his place in AIDS history and felt a responsibility to share his experience with younger generations.

“While the trajectory of AIDS has changed immensely, I think that knowing my tendency for feeling invincible until something happens to me, there is great peril that the current generation will never know how terrible the AIDS epidemic has been in gay America, let alone the world,” he wrote in the Huffington Post.

September 21, 2019
Chinese AIDS Activist Shuping Wang Dies

Shuping Wang, a Chinese doctor who braved the loss of her job as well as ostracism and assault to expose the spread of AIDS in rural China, dies in Salt Lake City at the age of 59.

Learn More.

Dr. Wang died of a heart attack while on a canyon hike with her husband.  She lived in Salt Lake City in recent years after settling in the U.S. in 2001.

Her death came just over two weeks after the world premiere in London of stage play based on Dr. Wang’s experience as a whistle-blower.

In the 1990s, she stood up to Chinese officials who had tried to conceal an AIDS epidemic in rural China.  The rapid spread of HIV in some of the country’s poorest villages had been attributed to facilities that bought blood from poor farmers and sold it to pharmaceutical companies, known as the “blood plasma economy.”

Dr. Wang was one of a group of Chinese doctors, researchers, activists and journalists who took great risks to spread information about the hidden epidemic.  As a doctor working in a rural province, she was the whistle-blower who marshaled evidence of the HIV spread through blood-draw facilities.

In Dr. Wang’s province of Henan, commercial blood harvesting facilities recruited hundreds of thousands of poor farmers to sell blood for a few dollars. In 1992, Dr. Wang began noticing high levels of hepatitis C among the people selling blood, and she wondered if HIV might also be spreading through the blood business.  Her suspicions proved to be correct.

When Chinese officials refused to fund comprehensive testing for HIV, saying it was too expensive, Dr. Wang used her savings to buy three HIV test kits and randomly tested 408 samples for the virus. She found that 13% the samples collected from blood sellers had the AIDS virus, an alarmingly high rate of infection.

“She had the courage to keep collecting and sharing evidence even when officials didn’t want information revealed,” Zhang Jicheng, a former Henan journalist who helped uncover the spread of AIDS there, said in an interview with The New York T. “She had no official support; this was her personal choice, and she suffered for it.”

Her activism drew condemnation and sometimes violence from Chinese authorities.  A former medical official used a club to beat Dr. Wang and destroy the contents of her testing lab.  The local government shuttered her lab, leaving her without pay. Her marriage to an official who worked in the medical administration cracked under the pressure and left her.

“Wang Shuping was the earliest medical worker to enter the fray in the war against AIDS,” Dr. Gao Yaojie, another doctor who worked in Henan, wrote in a tribute to Ms. Wang. “For this, she suffered the most grievous attacks and pain of her life.”

Eventually — far too late, in Dr. Wang’s view — the Chinese authorities closed the commercial blood stations that had spread HIV and offered medical help to villagers who had become infected, often with full-blown AIDS.  But tens of thousands of people — and possibly many more — had been infected through the blood trade, and Chinese officials tried to keep the epidemic secret.

“Countless families were broken apart and ruined by AIDS, leaving many AIDS orphans,” Dr. Wang wrote in 2014. “They had no one to turn to.”

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, the play was attacked by

“Speaking out cost me my job, my marriage and my happiness at the time, but it also helped save the lives of thousands and thousands of people,” Dr. Wang said in a question-and-answer exchange on the theater’s website. “I wanted to prevent disease, I didn’t care about power and position.”

Even as her life was celebrated onstage, Dr. Wang could not escape intimidation. Chinese state security officials confronted her family and former colleagues in Henan to press her to cancel the London production of the play about her, she said. She refused, and received a standing ovation at a performance.

September 21, 2019
Jonathan Van Ness of ‘Queer Eye’ Shares HIV+ Status

In a tearful interview with The New York Times, TV star Jonathan Van Ness discloses he is HIV positive.

Learn More.

Known as the grooming expert on the 2018 reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Van Ness disclosed that he was informed of his HIV-positive status after a visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Los Angeles.  A 25-year-old salon assistant at the time, Van Ness was motivated by his diagnosis to quit smoking methamphetamine, “clean up his lifestyle,” and pursue an entertainment career.

The Times interview coincided with the release of the 32-year-old’s memoir Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love.   Van Ness said he hoped his book would help dispell misconceptions about being HIV positive.

The decision to disclose his HIV status did not come easy for him.  When the Queer Eye reboot made him famous and he decided to write a book about the journey to his success, he debated whether to make his HIV status public.

“It was really difficult, because I was like, do I want to talk about my status?” he said. “And then I was like, the Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatization of the LGBT community thrive around me.

Over the Top would go onto to become a New York Times bestseller and one of NPR’s “Favorite Books of the Year.”  It would also win Goodread’s Choice Award for Best Memoir and Autobiography.

May 27, 2020
Activist-Playwright Larry Kramer Dies at 82

Outspoken activist, changemaker and author of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer dies of pneumonia at the age of 82.

Learn More.

Witnessing the spread of the disease later known as AIDS among his friends in 1980, Kramer was among the first to call his peers to action.  In 1981, Kramer gathered about 80 people in his NYC apartment and formed the Gay Men’s Health Crisis — the first organization for those infected with HIV and now the world’s largest private organization assisting people living with AIDS.

Kramer grew frustrated with bureaucratic paralysis and the apathy of gay men to the AIDS crisis.  This frustration was channeled into his 1985 play The Normal Heart, which debuted at The Public Theater in New York City and ran for a year.

In 1987, Kramer was the catalyst in the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a direct action protest organization that chose government agencies and corporations as targets to publicize lack of treatment and funding for people with AIDS. ACT UP was formed at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Services Center in New York City.  At ACT UP’s speaker series, thousands came to hear Kramer speak about taking action to fight AIDS.

“Larry’s singular combination of political vision, fiery passion, and eloquent anger were the fuel that sparked our organization – and the start of the global AIDS activist movement — in March of 1987,” reads ACT UP NY’s statement following Kramer’s death.

“Over the next thirty-plus years, Larry was our beacon, our inspiration, and sometimes our nemesis. But through good times and bad, we moved forward in our quest to end the AIDS crisis and to identify and defeat the villains in power whose crimes or apathy allowed a disease to become a worldwide plague. His uncompromising honesty moved us to greater achievements.”

In 2011 — 26 years after its yearlong run at The Public Theatre — The Normal Heart made its Broadway debut, directed by Joel Grey and starring Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin, Lee Pace and Jim Parsons.  Then Ryan Murphy optioned the rights to the play and eventually turned it into a 2014 HBO movie with an all-star cast including Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Alfred Molina and Parsons.

Kramer’s works also include The Destiny of Me (1992), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

And at the time of his death at the age of 82, he was still doing what he did best: sound the alarm on pandemics with a new play about the gay community having to live through three plagues, including COVID-19.

Scott Robbe
November 21, 2021
Scott Robbe — Founder of Out in Film — Dies

Scott Robbe, a TV, film and theater producer who created LGBTQ programs and a long-time AIDS activist who participated in ACT UP protests, dies after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 66.

Learn More.

Robbe’s life was devoted to progressive activism, beginning in his teen years, when he took part in 1960s marches for the environment, for civil rights, and against the Vietnam War.  Over the four decades that followed, his endeavors included both community organizing and producing dozens of works in theater, film, and television.

“Scott was a fearless activist, always on the front lines, whether he was protesting pharmaceutical company greed or homophobia at the Oscars,” ACT UP New York veteran Ann Northrop said in a statement released by Robbe’s estate. “And he was a total sweetheart.”

Robbe joined ACT UP after seeing the group protest at the White House in October 1987 during the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. He joined the group’s Media Committee and took part in numerous protests.  Years later, in the early 1990s, he would become HIV positive.

According to the Facebook group ACT UP NY Alumni, Robbe helped to found two direct-action groups in New York City: ACT UP and Queer Nation NY.  In September 1989, he and other ACT UP members secretly gained access to the New York Stock Exchange and were subsequently arrested.  The action was a big success, bringing media attention to the exorbitant price of AZT, then the only approved treatment for HIV/AIDS, and forcing its manufacturer, Burroughs Wellcome, to lower the price by 20%.

While in New York City, Robbe produced numerous theater projects, including several with actor Harvey Fierstein.  Robbe moved to the West Coast in 1990, where he worked on TV and film projects, many of which promoted LGBTQ visibility.  These include the first LGBTQ comedy special for Comedy Central in 1993, called Out There, hosted by actor Lea DeLaria. Robbe was also part of the creative team behind the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy series in 2003.

Robbe cofounded Out in Film, a Los Angeles-based group that protested representations in movies it found stereotypical and homophobic, such as Silence of the LambsJFK and Basic Instinct.

In 2005, Mr. Robbe was named executive director and film commissioner for Film Wisconsin Inc. During his tenure, Mr. Robbe brought 28 TV and film projects to the state, including the 2009 film Public Enemies by Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum.

During the COVID pandemic, Robbe worked with activists in Cuba to bring pressure on the American government to distribute the COVID vaccine in the country.  Robbe was also involved in grassroots activism in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he had a second home.

In April 2021, Robbe underwent stem cell treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for myelodysplastic anemia, a blood cancer.  Later that year, he entered hospice care at the Wisconsin home of his sister, Angela.

  • 1980
  • 1981
  • 1982
  • 1983
  • 1984
  • 1985
  • 1986
  • 1987
  • 1988
  • 1989
  • 1990
  • 1991
  • 1992
  • 1993
  • 1994
  • 1995
  • 1996
  • 1997
  • 1998
  • 1999
  • 2000
  • 2001
  • 2002
  • 2003
  • 2004
  • 2005
  • 2006
  • 2007
  • 2008
  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • 2013
  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021
  • 2022
  • 2023
  • 2024
  • 2025
  • 2026
  • 2027
  • 2028
  • 2029
  • 1980s
  • 1990s
  • 2000s
  • 2010s
  • 2020s
Lives Lost