Primary Sources AIDS Activism

Back To Basics:  AIDS/HIV Advocacy as a Model for Catalysing Change  (pdf)

Excellent overview of the outcomes of the activist movement.

“People affected by HIV ultimately rallied together and created an advocacy movement that demanded change and got results. As a result of the efforts of the HIV/AIDS activists in the United States, HIV/AIDS has gone from being a death sentence to a chronic, manageable illness as long as access to medicines following diagnosis is assured. This movement fundamentally changed the medical research paradigm.   It changed how research is conducted, how drugs are approved, and how patients engage with all areas of the federal government, and even with the private sector.”

ACT UP: AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power

An international direct action advocacy group working to impact the lives of people with AIDS (PWAs) and the AIDS pandemic to bring about legislation, medical research and treatment and policies to ultimately bring an end to the disease by mitigating loss of health and lives.

Wikipedia article (good overview)

From the ACT UP NY website

Below are links to information on the original ACT UP website.  Please be advised it is a bit funky and outdated in its appearance but it houses the raw materials documenting the workings of the movement.  Also note that ACT UP was founded in 1987, the World Wide Web did not not come into being until 1991.

Index of ACT UP Documents

Civil Disobedience Handbook

Demonstrator/Protestor Manual

Why We Get Arrested – Personal statements from protestors

Marshall Training – marshals were observers and acted as a buffer between police, hecklers, and bystanders.

Planning an Action

ACT UP Oral History Project  -Video interviews and transcriptions of key ACT UP members

ACT UP History

ACT UP Chants  Phrases used by protestors

New member packet

Teaching Resources Timeline of HIV  

A wonderful visual resource that is sortable by categories such as Activism, Policy and Culture, Milestones , etc



Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture

An online exhibition that includes comprehensive course materials and lesson plans for Grades 10-12 and Higher Education from NIH: National Library of Medicine.



Grades 10-12

AIDS Activism Now and Then

Higher Education Modules

PATIENT ZERO and the Early North American HIV/AIDS Epidemic

RESPONDING TO AIDS: History, Politics and Visual Culture

SOCIETY AT ODDS: the Evolution of AIDS Outreach and Education in America


AIDS History and Activism Youtube Playlist

a collection of videos related to ACT UP and the fight against AIDS

“Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP”

Film overview of ACT UP by activist and ACT UP member James Wentzy.  James, among others, documented the intimate details of the movement.  The film shows meetings, many of the group’s protests and other actions.  Other films by James 

Stephen Floyd Archive 

Eclectic collection of activist memorabilia.

Gran Fury Digital Collection @ NY Public Library

Gran Fury was an AIDS activist artist collective from New York City consisting of 11 members including: Richard Elovich, Avram Finkelstein, Amy Heard, Tom Kalin, John Lindell, Loring McAlpin, Marlene McCarty, Donald Moffett, Michael Nesline, Mark Simpson and Robert Vazquez-Pacheco.  Gran Fury organized as an autonomous collective, describing themselves as a “…band of individuals united in anger and dedicated to exploiting the power of art to end the AIDS crisis.”

ACT UP Digital Collection @ NY Public Library

Collection of posters and photographs from the movement.

AIDS Poster Collection @ University of Minnesota

“The posters presented here represent a global sampling of materials and posters produced concerning the HIV/AIDS crisis. Many of the posters were created as part of different prevention/awareness programs and distributed between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s. Although most materials relate in some way to the LGBT community – there are posters addressing issues of HIV/AIDS for a number of different communities and from different perspectives. Among the most common issues addressed are: safer sex practices, condom use, information distribution, respect (of oneself and one’s partner) and risks associated with drug use.”

International collection of educational materials. Warning some are very explicit.

National Institutes for Health Digital Collection of AIDS education/prevention materials. 

Posters, brochures, manuals, and more.

The Ryan White Letters

Letters sent to Ryan White by children.

Ryan White who was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984. Ryan White was diagnosed at age 13 while living in Kokomo, Indiana and was given six months to live. When Ryan White tried to return to school, he fought AIDS-related discrimination in his Indiana community. Along with his mother Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan White rallied for his right to attend school – gaining national attention – and became the face of public education about his disease. Surprising his doctors, Ryan White lived five years longer than predicted. He died in April 1990, one month before his high school graduation and only months before Congress passed the legislation bearing his name in August 1990 – the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.


The Denver PrinciplesJim EigoVito Russo: Why We FightWhy We Get ArrestedReagan and AIDS