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Higher Education Modules

Society at Odds: the Evolution of AIDS Outreach and Education in America

Class 3: Educating Local Communities

AIDS activists provided a much needed voice of awareness and action, as well as focused on community outreach and education. This class introduces examples of two community-based activist groups’ efforts/campaigns—the Northwest AIDS Foundation and the South Carolina AIDS Education Network (SCAEN). While each focused on and operated in distinct communities, both groups employed a targeted, knowledgeable, and practical approach to how people were having sex. Atkins’s piece compliments the selection of posters in the Northwest AIDS Foundation digital gallery, telling the story of how the Foundation’s provocative and successful “Rules of the Road” campaign helped explain prevention tactics, while establishing new community norms for safer sex in Seattle. Across the country in South Carolina, a hairdresser named DiAna DiAna founded SCAEN to provide condoms and sex education to her customers and community. Their grassroots publicity efforts are also available in the South Carolina AIDS Education Network digital gallery. Spiro’s documentary provides a context for these pieces; she interviewed and filmed the organization’s leaders (DiAna DiAna and Dr. Bambi Sumpter), as well as captured the mission, ideas, and applications of their work in the local community.


Atkins, Gary. “At the Hospital: A Plague Arrives.” In Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2003, pp. 294-317.

National Library of Medicine. “Digital Gallery: Northwest AIDS Foundation.” Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture.

National Library of Medicine. “Digital Gallery: South Carolina AIDS Education Network (SCAEN).” Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture.

Spiro, Ellen. DiAna’s Hair Ego. Directed by Ellen Spiro. 1991. New York: Mobilus Media. Videocassette (VHS).

Discussion Questions
  1. Compare the outreach efforts of the Northwest AIDS Foundation and the South Carolina AIDS Education Network. Consider their approaches, intended audiences, tactics and available resources. What are the differences and similarities between the groups? What medical or social factors might have influenced the activities in each city?
  2. What types of AIDS prevention strategies do the two organizations advocate? How is abstinence as a prevention strategy addressed by each organization? Condoms? Sexual practices? What views does each organization hold on these topics? Do you think the organizations’ approaches were effective during the time they were employed? Why or why not?
  3. Besides the resources DiAna DiAna provided through SCAEN, what other sources of sex education does Ellen Spiro describe in DiAna’s Hair Ego? How are these different from the way DiAna DiAna approached sex education?
  4. Considering strategies used by both organizations, what are the advantages of working with a local community? Do you think either strategy could have been implemented on a larger level? What would be the challenges? The benefits?