Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture

“We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘People With AIDS.’”

Denver Principles, 1983

Group of 11 men, holding a banner with white lettering that reads “Fighting for our Lives.”

In 1981, a new disease appeared in the United States.

As it spread, fear and confusion pervaded the country. The infectious “rare cancer” bewildered researchers and bred suspicion, but worry was not the same for everyone. Many feared contact with those who were ill. Others, particularly but not exclusively gay men, feared for their lives and the lives of loved ones.

Reactions to the disease, soon named AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), varied. Early responders cared for the sick, fought homophobia, and promoted new practices to keep people healthy. Scientists and public health officials struggled to understand the disease and how it spread. Politicians remained largely silent until the epidemic became too big to ignore. Activists demanded that people with AIDS be part of the solution.

The title Surviving and Thriving comes from a book written in 1987 by and for people with AIDS that insisted people could live with AIDS, not just die from it. This exhibition presents their stories alongside those of others involved in the national AIDS crisis. Listen to them and consider the ever-changing relationship between science and society.


A group of white men holding a sign
Group of 11 men, holding a banner with white lettering that reads Fighting for our Lives.

People with AIDS group, Denver, June 1983

Courtesy ©John Schoenwalter

First carried at candlelight vigils in San Francisco to call attention to the experiences of people with AIDS, this banner made its way to Denver for the Fifth National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference. Once in Colorado, the men pictured wrote the Denver Principles, a document that fundamentally shifted the debate about how to treat people with AIDS. Together, the sign and the manifesto animated the movement led by people with AIDS.


An aerial view of a crowd of thousands of people

Protest of Food and Drug Administration ban on Haitian blood donations, Brooklyn, New York, April 20, 1990

Courtesy AP/Gerald Herbert

In the early 1980s, particular types of people were blamed for the spread of AIDS. The theory of the 4 H's—that AIDS was restricted to homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs, and heroin users—inaccurately assumed that identity, not behavior, put people at risk.


Affection is Our Best Protection

Gay men and lesbians were the first to respond to the growing AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s, providing care for and information to those who desperately needed it. Working to counter inaction by governmental entities, activists insisted that the fight against AIDS required eliminating fear of gays and lesbians and disseminating new ideas about sexual health.

A group of women with arms raised
Large group of people, all holding one arm up. Text above reads Fight the fear with the facts, Call 1(800) 922-AIDS.

“Fight the Fear with the Facts” poster, AIDS Project Los Angeles, circa 1986

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Dedicated and extensive networks emerged to care for people with AIDS. Across the country, volunteers delivered food, visited the homebound, and staffed hotlines to answer questions. Their efforts existed in direct opposition to the profound societal abandonment many people with AIDS had experienced.


Fight the fear with the facts. Call 1(800) 922-AIDS.
Cover of report, with black text at top and larger text near middle of cover.

How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz, 1982

Courtesy Richard Berkowitz, Richard Dworkin, and Joseph Sonnabend, MD

Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz’s short manifesto described ways for men to be affectionate and sexual while dramatically lessening the risk of spreading and contracting AIDS. This booklet was one of the first times men were told to use condoms when having sex with other men.


Medical and Scientific Consultant: Joseph Sonnabend, M.D. Chairman, Scientific Committee, AIDS MEDICAL FOUNDATION How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach
Callen on right seated in front of typewrite, Berkowitz on left leaning on desk.

Michael Callen (at typewriter) and Richard Berkowitz, 1984

Courtesy Richard Dworkin

In 1982, Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz, two gay men with AIDS living in New York, invented the practice of safer sex, forever changing the way people dealt with and prevented AIDS.


Pink cover of the same book in English and in Spanish. Cartoon shows group of four women talking.

Making It: A Woman's Guide to Sex in the Age of AIDS, Cindy Patton and Janis Kelly, 1987

Courtesy Jennifer Brier, PhD and Firebrand Books

As the 1980s progressed, it became increasingly clear that women could contract and die from AIDS. In 1987, Making It, a guide in English and Spanish, gave women easy-to-follow AIDS prevention methods, including negotiating condom use with male partners, keeping needles clean, and using safer sex practices between women.


MAKING IT A Woman’s Guide to Sex in the Age of AIDS By Cindy Patton and Janis Kelly Spanish Translation by Papusa Molina Illustrations by Alison Bechdel Revised and Updated [cartoon of four women sitting together] Woman 2: “Mutual oral sex using a condom and a dental dam while submerged in a hot tub.” Woman 4: I dunno…sounds knda risky to me. [end of cartoon] Long-term AIDS journalists and activists Cindy Patton and Janis Kelly have addressed one of the critical questions: How can women—heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual—enjoy full sexual lives and protect themselves from this deadly disease? Firebrand Sparks Pamphlet #2 Please Return to Kat Hindmand Firebrand Books Ithaca, New York $3.95 ISBN 0-932379-32-X Haciéndolo Guía Sexual para Mujeres en la Era del SIDA Por Cindy Patton y Janis Kelly Traducción al Español de Papusa Molina Ilustraciones de Alison Bechdel Revisada y puesta al Día [cartoon of four women sitting together] Woman 2: “Sexo, oral, mutuo, usando un condón y un protector dental, mientras te submerges en un jacuzzi.” Woman 4: Yo no se…me suena medio arriesgado. [end of cartoon] Cindy Patton y Janis Kelly, quienes por largo tiempo han sido periodistas y activistas en asuntos del SIDA, han confrontado una pregunta muy crítica: ¿Como pueden las mujeres—eterosexulas, lesbianas, bisexuales—disfrutar plenamente su vida sexual y protegerse al mismo tiempo de esta enfermedad mortal? Un planfeto de la Serie Chispas de Firebrand #2 Firebrand Books Ithaca, New York $3.95 ISBN 0-932379-32-X
Two shirtless men. One man is behind the other, leaning on the other man’s shoulder.

“If you really love him. . . Rubbers – Every Time!” poster, Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, Los Angeles, 1985

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

In response to a pervasive myth that AIDS was a white gay disease, black gay and lesbian organizations created campaigns targeting black men who had sex with men. They encouraged men to protect one another, insisting that love—although not in the form of marriage or even commitment—and condoms were critical for AIDS prevention.


If you really love him… Rubbers – Every Time! “Rubber – every time!” is a risk-reduction poster series targeting Black gay men, produced in joint partnership with the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum and the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention of the National Association of Black and White Men Together. 3924 West Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1; Los Angeles CA, 90029; 213/666-5495 copyright 1985 Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum. All Rights Reserved.

Doing Science, Making Myths

During the mid-1980s, public health officials and scientists struggled to understand AIDS. They undertook fledgling research on shoestring budgets, conducting two distinct yet related investigations that emerged in a swirl of scientific facts and cultural myths. Some sought to determine how AIDS spread. Others tried to locate the biological agent responsible for spreading the disease. Against the backdrop of fear and misunderstanding that permeated society, scientists’ initial findings sometimes produced unintended political consequences.

A white man looks into a microscope
Dr. Luc Montagnier smiling and leaning on a lab table.

Naming HIV

In April 1984, Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute at NIH isolated HTLV-III (human T-lymphotropic virus III) as the cause of AIDS. Scientists later determined it was the same virus identified as LAV (lymphadenopathy-associated virus) by Dr. Luc Montagnier and his team at the Pasteur Institute a year earlier. Despite disagreement over who made the initial discovery, French and American researchers eventually agreed to share the credit. In 1986, the virus was renamed HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Identifying a viral cause enabled the scientific community to develop a test for HIV and better confront AIDS with treatment.

Dr. Luc Montagnier, Pasteur Institute, France, 2000

Reprinted with permission from MacMillan Publishers Ltd: Nature Magazine, vol. 6, no. 3, March 2000


Dr. Robert C. Gallo using a magnifying glass in an office with a Woman standing behind him

Dr. Robert C. Gallo using a magnifying glass in an office with a Woman standing behind him

Courtesy National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health


Diagram of circles linked from the same center circle. Center circle has an X. Lower left is a key

From Patient “O” to Patient Zero

William Darrow, a medical sociologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drew this map to provide graphic evidence that AIDS was infectious and spread by sexual contact. After dozens of interviews and intricate data analysis, he and his collaborators presented this “cluster” of patients. Patient O, shown in the center of the network and originally shorthand for “out-of-California,” was read inaccurately as Patient Zero. The data quickly became fodder for popular accounts that sought to identify the earliest case of AIDS in America.

Map of sexual contacts among homosexual men with AIDS, from William Darrow, PhD, et al., “Cluster of Cases of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” American Journal of Medicine, March 1984

Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and William Darrow, PhD


Photo of Gaétan Dugas with text featured below.

Marked up page from “The 25 Most Intriguing People of '87” People, December 28, 1987

Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Library and Center for Knowledge Management, University of California, San Francisco

People magazine featured Gaëtan Dugas as Patient Zero, naming him one of 1987's most intriguing people by incorrectly blaming him for infecting America with AIDS. The editors pulled Dugas's story from And the Band Played On, a widely read chronicle of the AIDS crisis by gay journalist Randy Shilts. The book's tale of Patient Zero, which was at odds with existing scientific evidence, overshadowed its more substantive account of government negligence. By relying on age-old stereotypes of gay men as catty, promiscuous, and more interested in sex than health, Shilts's book and the People magazine selection from it prompted angry, homophobic responses. This marked up copy of People magazine, anonymously mailed to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation exemplifies negative reactions.


Intriguers [Handwritten note with arrow pointing to portrait of Dugas] pervert Patient Zero... also known as Gaetan Dugas, whose fierce sexual drive gave impetus to an epidemic that claimed his life and thousands more. For medical researchers he was a missing link, the human explosive whose promiscuous presence may have triggered an epidemic beyond his imagining. Of 248 American homosexuals diagnosed as having AIDS by the spring of 1982, at least 40 had been either sexually involved with the man whom epidemiologists have come to call Patient Zero or had been intimate with someone who had.
In most respects Gaetan Dugas was an ordinary man, remarkable only for his sexual stamina and a personal charm that time has judged fatal. A French Canadian who worked as a flight steward, he was identified by name last fall in Randy Shilts’s monumental study of the AIDS epidemic, And the Band Played On. Dugas told a researcher that over a 10- year period he had made some 2,500 homosexual contacts in gay bars and bathhouses, mainly in New York and California. Though diagnosed with AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma as early as 1980, he never fully understood or accepted his role as a major transmitter of the vires. Sexually active to the end, Dugas died in his native Quebec City in 1984. He was 32 years old.
Photograph by CBS News, 60 Minutes, [Page] 47
[Handwritten note with arrow pointing to portrait of Dugas] Get rid of the B-- and we’ll get rid of aids! [1988]

 Newspaper article with photograph of Gaétan Dugas’ Airline Steward badge.

ACT UP/San Francisco’s repurposed image of Gaëtan Dugas advertisement from the New York Times, August 23, 1988

Courtesy Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society

Despite statements to the contrary, the myth of Patient Zero did nothing to contain the AIDS epidemic. San Francisco activists reclaimed Gaëtan Dugas's story and image to counter hateful stigmatizations and defend all people with AIDS as deserving of care and treatment.


While everyone was searching for a cure for aids, we discovered the cause.
[image of Gaétan Dugas’ badge] Gaétan Dugas Employee Pass Airline Steward ID No. 3740291 Not Transferable
The AIDS epidemic in America wasn’t spread by a virus. It was spread by a single man. Young. Egocentric. The star of the homosexual jet-set. A Canadian flight attendant named Gaétan Dugas, who continued to infect up to 250 men a year. Even after U.S. Health officials begged him to stop.
In “Patient Zero: The Man Who Brought AIDS to California,” Randy Shilts chronicled the horror of a promiscuous man with a deadly disease. A disease that may ultimately threaten an entire nation. And the story appeared first in California Magazine.
“Patient Zero” is the kind of involving journalism rarely found in America today. But the kind of articles our readers expect to find in California, every month.
Maybe that’s why over a million opinion leaders in California, base so many opinions on what they read in California Magazine. Because no one covers California like we do.
No one covers California like we do. California magazine
[Text added to the photocopied article] Stop the spread of fear and ignorance!! Call California Magazine (415) 986-5196, Tell them what you think about their “kind of involving journalism...”
The "patient zero" theory was dismissed in May by the same doctor who began it, was there a story in California Magazine about that? Ask them!! ACT-UP San Francisco This ad filled a half page in The New York Times on August 23, 1988

Government (In)Action

The United States government remained largely silent in the face of the AIDS crisis. Elected leaders avoided the issue. Funding requests for research and patient care went unfulfilled. Fear and misinformation permeated communications. Officials blamed and stigmatized people with AIDS. Change came slowly to those with responsibility. Finally, ten years into the epidemic, Congress passed comprehensive legislation to improve the care of low-income and underinsured people with AIDS.

A portrait of a smirking white man
Gary Bauer looking off to the right of the image, in front of a white building.

Gary Bauer, assistant to the president for policy development, May 1, 1987

Courtesy Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Gary Bauer, a senior policy advisor to the president, advocated that all federally funded HIV/AIDS prevention material “encourage responsible sexual behavior—based on fidelity, commitment, and maturity, placing sexuality within the context of marriage.” Bauer led President Reagan’s administration in its embrace of a values-driven response to the AIDS epidemic, promoting strategies unavailable to those most at risk.


Two pages of an article, with an image of a condom and open condom wrapper on the right page.

Excerpted from The Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS, 1986

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

As the “nation's doctor,” Surgeon General Koop spearheaded a position on care, treatment, and prevention that recommended the use of condoms and “fighting a disease, not people.” This position was contrary to that of many high-ranking officials and caused uproar among the president's advisors.


Ryan White on phone at a desk, his mother is sitting next to him.

Indiana teenager Ryan White “attends” school via telephone from his home, with his mother, August 26, 1985

Courtesy David Boe/Copyright Bettmann/Corbis/Associated Press

When thirteen-year-old hemophiliac Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, he was barred from attending middle school in his Indiana hometown. Garnering equal parts sympathy and hatred from the public, White ultimately became the palatable face of AIDS. He refused, however, to be seen as more deserving of tolerance and demanded care for all people with AIDS. White died at age eighteen in 1990. Later that year, the federal government introduced comprehensive AIDS legislation named in his honor.


President Ronald Reagan (right) and Dr. C. Everett Koop (left) shaking hands.

President Ronald Reagan (right) and Dr. C. Everett Koop at White House, circa 1983

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

President Ronald Reagan took five years to publicly address the epidemic. At the end of 1985, he asked Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to write a “special report on AIDS.”


To Chick Koop
With best wishes, & Regards
Ronald Reagan

President Obama signing a document. He is surrounded by a group of 11 individuals.

President Obama, with Jeanne White-Ginder (right of desk) and other officials, signs the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009

Courtesy AP/Gerald Herbert

On October 30, 2009, Barack Obama became the third president to extend the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990. Originally signed by George H. W. Bush, the act sought to improve the care of low-income and underinsured people with AIDS, policies that were all but impossible in the 1980s.


Fight Back, Fight AIDS

By 1987, more than 46,000 Americans had become infected with HIV and more than 13,000 had died from AIDS. In response to this devastation, a new movement emerged led by people with AIDS: the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). They fought to be included in the scientific process, demanded the release of new drugs, advocated for an expanded definition of the disease, and insisted that other systemic inequalities could no longer be ignored. Using artistically striking, media savvy tactics, these activists harnessed their anger to fundamentally change the course of the AIDS epidemic.

Protester in foreground placing protest mock gravestone in a field with other protest mock gravestones.
Protester in foreground placing protest mock gravestone in a field with other protest mock gravestones.

Protestors in front of the James A. Shannon Building, National Institutes of Health, 1990

Courtesy Donna Binder

In 1990, ACT UP protesters took over parts of the National Institutes of Health campus, calling on scientists to develop more drugs for people with AIDS and the federal government to disseminate drugs equitably. Their efforts convinced policy makers to change regulations, which resulted in a new regimen of drugs used to treat AIDS, made available in 1996.


[Protest tombstones on lawn] N.I.H nothing is happening; Dead from drug profiteers; Dead from homo-phobia; Poisoned from AZT; Dead from greed; R.I.P. dying on A.Z.T.; AZT is no cure!
Two African American Men carrying a mock coffin. People process behind them.

Members of ACT UP/Philadelphia hold a mock funeral march in front of the governor's mansion, August 30, 2012

Courtesy Joe Hermitt, © 2012 The Patriot-News. All rights reserved. Reprinted and used with permission.

As AIDS increasingly affected people of color, gay and straight, those at the center of AIDS activism changed. In 2012, ACT UP/Philadelphia defiantly protested the state’s decision to eliminate a cash assistance program used by people living in poverty to purchase treatment medications. The chapter remains active today because it connects AIDS activism to other pressing social issues, such as access to safe housing and quality healthcare, in both the United States and around the world.


Protesters holding hands and signs, most notably one in the middle which reads silence=death.

Protestors in front of the Department of Health and Human Services, during the national campaign to change the definition of AIDS, October 2, 1990

Courtesy Donna Binder

With chapters across the country, ACT UP held thousands of demonstrations between 1987 and 1996, including one at the Department of Health and Human Services to insist that women with AIDS receive care and treatment. Their actions transformed how scientists and politicians responded to the AIDS crisis.


Symbol for women with two snakes entwined around the base. Text above image reads Women don’t get AIDS. They just die from it.

Poster for the Department of Health and Human Services demonstration designed by ACT UP/DC Women's Committee, 1990

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

In October 1990, ACT UP descended upon Washington and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, carrying signs that demanded the formal definition of AIDS change to include women. Excluded from the diagnosis of having AIDS, women could not access potentially lifesaving care and treatment, even as they died of the disease. By 1992, activists succeeded in their efforts: women were officially recognized as people who could have AIDS.


Four police officers stand facing away from protesters lying down in front of a building.

Police officers stand watch over activists at Storm the NIH protest, May 21, 1990

Courtesy Donna Binder

In one of its most dramatic and effective national protests, ACT UP chapters from across the country occupied the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on May 21, 1990. During Storm the NIH, protestors staged a “die in” and plastered buildings with signs and banners to illustrate their demands for governmental action on AIDS treatment. Responding to a wave of activism, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, initiated changes in the testing of AIDS drugs.


AIDS is Not Over

The challenges posed by AIDS today are complex. Treatments exist but are not uniformly available. Debates persist about what prevention strategies are politically acceptable. People with AIDS and their advocates have made lasting changes to contain the epidemic and provide access to lifesaving treatments, but serious obstacles—including poverty and societal violence—preclude many from staying healthy. Dedicated health professionals continue to work alongside longtime activists. Together, they struggle to develop new ways to care for people living with HIV/AIDS and prevent the disease from spreading.

An African American woman doctor talks to an African American male patient
Dr. Cargill in white lab coat, talking with a patient.

Victoria Cargill, MD (right) with a patient at a Washington, DC community health center, February 2013

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Dr. Victoria Cargill first encountered AIDS in Boston in 1981, before the term even existed. The experience changed her life, and she has spent her career caring for people with AIDS, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Dr. Cargill came to Washington, DC in 1998 and continued her HIV/AIDS work at a community health center in Southeast Washington, an area with an infection rate of more than 12 percent. Today, Dr. Cargill is associate director for Interdisciplinary Research at the Office of Research on Women's Health.


Series of black and white drawings depicting a man and woman’s disagreement.

La Decisión I, New York City Department of Health, 1990

Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine


Decision [6 panel cartoon] As the minutes ticked by, their passion grew… [Marisol and Julio embracing] Julio: Come on Marisol, prove your love for me. [Marisol holding up a condom] female: I love you, Julio, But if you love me too, use this. [Julio looking angry] Julio: A condom?! Don’t with that again! What do you think I am? [close up of Marisol crying in a heart shaped outline] Marisol couldn’t believe that Julio felt so insulted. [closed door] It’s clear you don’t really love me! Slam! [Marisol sitting on couch] Marisol: I love you, but not enough to die for you! [end of cartoon] Love is not worth dying for. Protect yourself, get the facts. Call 1-718-485-8111 the AIDS hotline. AIDS It can happen to you. [logo] City of New York; David N. Dinkens, Mayor; Woodrow A. Myers, Jr. M.D., Commissioner, Department of Health
Series of black and white drawings depicting a man and woman’s disagreement.

La Decisión II, New York City Department of Health, 1990

Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine


Decision II [6 panel cartoon] When we last saw them, Julio had stormed out because Marisol had asked him to wear a condom. [Marisol looking out a window] Marisol thinks: I love you, but not enough to die for you. Julio thinks: What do condoms have to do with love? What does she think I am? [Julio outside a storefront] After Walking around for a while, Julio decides to drop in on Marco and Miguel. [Marco behind a counter, Miguel sitting at the counter, Julio standing next to the counter] Marco: Hey Julio! Where’s Marisol? Julio: At her place, crying that if I loved her I’d use condoms. Do I look like I need to use a condom? [Close up of Marco] Marco: Do I? But Marie and I use them, with all this AIDS stuff…why take chances? Right, Miguel? [Julio and Miguel sitting at the counter with Marco standing behind] Miguel: Yeah, maybe if Raul and Anita used them, they’d still be around. [Close up of Julio] Julio: Your cousin…Anita? Miguel: Yeah…She died of AIDS a few moths ago, and he’s real sick. [Julio walks down a city street] Miguel thinks: Anita…Raul…AIDS…Man I’ve got to figure this all out. [end of cartoon] What will Julio decide? What will Marisol do? Send your ideas to “Julio and Marisol” Box A1 125 Worth Street New York, N.Y., 10013 AIDS It can happen to you. [logo] The AIDS Hotline (718) 485-8111 For the Hearing Impaired TDO (212) 532-3570/8663
New York City subway interior, white and black La Decisión comic panels along ceiling of car.

View of New York City subway car depicting part of the La Decisión serialized story, April 6, 1993

Courtesy AP/Paul Hurschmann

Produced by the New York City Department of Health and funded by the federal government to reach Spanish- and English-speaking subway riders, this comic ran for more than a decade and on more than six thousand train cars. La Decisión serialized the story of Marisol, a Latina struggling with her boyfriend, Julio, over using a condom, and watching friends die from AIDS.


An older African American heterosexual couple

“Rubber Revolution” poster, District of Columbia Department of Health, 2011

Courtesy HAHSTA (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, TB Administration), District of Columbia Department of Health

Today, Americans age fifty-five and older are among the fastest growing populations of people with AIDS. To address this, the District of Columbia Department of Health supports awareness campaigns to educate older residents about sexual health.


Join the Rubber Revolution “Social Security” Protect yourself to stay healthy. You’re never too old to need a condom. To find or order free condoms, call the DC Office on Aging at 202-724-5622, or visit To learn more about sexual health screenings, visit your doctor.
Three uniformed African American women holding yellow “Ask for the Test” sign.

“Ask for the Test” poster, 2012

Courtesy HAHSTA (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, TB Administration), District of Columbia Department of Health

In the 21st century, testing for HIV is the first line of defense in the battle against AIDS. But when the test was released in 1985, many people refused for fear that their names would go on a registry to deny them health care. Municipal unions in Washington, DC are at the forefront of fighting this persistent myth and explaining how testing helps keep people healthy.


When we visit our doctors, We Ask For The Test. It’s not just for us. It keeps our union and the city’s workforce healthy. To find out more about getting an HIV test, visit your doctor. You can also go to, call 311, or text “DCTEST” to 61827.* [Three uniformed female officers holding poster] Ask for the Test Employees from the DC Department of Corrections at the Wilson Building. DC takes on HIV [Logos] District of Columbia flag, One City District of Columbia map, Government of the District of Columbia, DOH, Department of Health, Promote. Prevent. Protect. *Message and data rates apply. [Logos] American Federation of Government Employees, Justice Fraternity Progress, AFSCME, DCNA, District of Columbia Nurses Association , 1199 AFSCME, Hospital and Healthcare Employees, Doctors Council of the District of Columbia, FOP, Teamsters, Unity, Pride, Strength, SEIU NAGE, 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workforce, SEIU NAGE, LOCAL R3-05, National Association of Government Employees, WTU, Washington Teachers’ Union, AFT Local No. 6 AFL-CIO
Four shirtless men of East and South Asian descent.

“We Choose to Play Safe Every Time” poster, produced by the Asian and Pacific Islander Partnership for Health, 1997

Courtesy Asian and Pacific Islander Partnership for Health, Washington, DC and HAHSTA (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, TB Administration), District of Columbia Department of Health

This public health advertisement echoed prevention campaigns of the 1980s by picturing men embracing one another and calling on them to use condoms. By the late 1990s, it was critical to reach men of East and South Asian descent, many of whom believed that Asians were not at risk, so that they could take action to keep themselves healthy.


We Choose to Play Safe Every Time Use a condom Asian and Pacific Islander Partnership for Health P.O. Box 18964 – Washington, DC, 20036 Voice Mail: 202.986.2393 – email: Supporting Organizations: aqua [logo] Asian and Pacific Islander Queers United for Action; [logo] Asians & Friends Washington; KHUSH/DC South Asian Gays Lesbians and Bisexuals Design and Layout: Nicolas F. Shi; Photography: Donald J. Clemmey