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Surviving and ThrivingSurviving 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

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

People with AIDS group, Denver, 1983

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 the worry was not the same for everyone.…

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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

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…

Continue to Affection is Our Best Protection
Gaëtan Dugas, red handwritten text evident underneath image of Dugas.

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

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…

Continue to Doing Science, Making Myths
President Ronald Reagan (right) and Dr. C. Everett Koop (left) shaking hands.

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

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…

Continue to Government (In)Action
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

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…

Continue to Fight Back, Fight AIDS
Three uniformed women holding yellow “Ask for the Test” sign.

“Ask for the Test” poster, District of Columbia Department of Health, 2012

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…

Continue to AIDS is Not Over