ACT UP protesters outside of Trump Tower in 1989.Photo: archive
It’s impossible for those of us who were not there to ever truly understand what it was like to live through the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and for those who did, impossible to fully explain. As more people began to succumb to the illness, bureaucracy, greed and apathy held firm, presented challenges on all fronts.
The government was slow to respond, with the Reagan administration alternately joking about and ignoring the rising death toll. Pharmaceutical companies continued to price drugs out of the reach of most people who needed them. The FDA’s year’s long approval process resulted in a lack of access to potentially life saving medications. The media continued to publish false and misleading information. Many religious groups pointed to the deaths as proof of the sin of homosexuality.
In response, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed as a political action group in 1987. The fight against AIDS remains an ongoing struggle that the group remains active in today around the world, although not to the degree that it was during the height of the crisis.
Their bold, decisive actions helped bring about real change, such as more funding for research, lower drug prices, speeding up the FDA approval process and ending discriminatory practices at hospitals.
The Trump administration has so far moved most aggressively against the immigrant and refugee communities, and has taken some actions that clearly show they are not on the side of the LGBTQ community. The DOJ has stepped back from protecting transgender students, the White House website is noticeably absent from pages about LGBTQ rights and the CDC cancelled a planned LGBTQ youth summit over concerns that it might upset the new administration. There are also concerns that Trump may be looking to shut down the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP).
Meanwhile, concerns abound over a leaked “religious freedom” executive order that would provide a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Even if it never comes to pass, a similar piece of legislation, the First Amendment Defense Act, could soon be introduced to Congress. Trump has said he would sign it.
We can learn from the successes of ACT UP and apply them to the fight against the regressive policies of President Trump and his anti-LGBTQ Cabinet. In fact, the process is already underway, as many ACT UP members are now meeting to stop Trump. ACT UP organized a protest during the campaign at Trump Tower over his attempts to use the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando to “polarize Americans.”
It wasn’t the first time, either. On Halloween 1989, ACT UP protested against him in front of Trump Tower in an action that saw around 100 costumed people take part, and that was organized by the group’s Housing Committee. It was in response to a lack of housing for homeless people with HIV/AIDS as well as corporate greed generally.
After the page break are four easy lessons you can learn from ACT UP’s history that will help you fight back against the Trump administration today.