By the end of the 1980s, the CDC had acknowledged 100,000 reported cases of AIDS in the United States — a number that represented only the minimum amount of infected people due to widespread unreported cases and common misdiagnosis. With the virus disproportionally affecting the LGBTQ community and with the price of treatment inflating to unreasonable levels, the fight against AIDS was not just a public health emergency, but also a flashpoint for LGBTQ civil rights.
In 1987, during a panel discussion at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City, writer Larry Kramer addressed his audience by asking, “Do we want to start a new organization devoted to political action?” The answer was the beginning of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a grassroots political group whose guerrilla tactics and confrontational protest methods were used to wage war against policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, and the media alike.
Inspired by the radical dissidence of the 1969 Stonewall riots, ACT UP played an enormous role in helping to shift public perception of the AIDS crisis and advocating for visibility among the LGBTQ community. These pictures capture the tactics used by ACT UP and the people who raised their voices at a time when it felt like nobody was listening.