When we think about gay rights in America, it is evident that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and others (LGBTQ+) have come a long, long way with still difficult roads ahead in order to be treated equally, under law or otherwise, as their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. It was as if the entire gay community reached a breakthrough when on June 26, 2015, the U.S Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant and recognize same-sex marriages (Yoshino). That, in and of itself, was a major milestone in gay rights activism, although memories of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 is still as fresh as if it were yesterday. Before these events that provided a revolutionary conviction to this cause, the narrative was worlds apart for the gay community, with one of the darkest periods being the epidemic of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which was known as the gay cancer (Rist) before the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The disease AIDS has caused the gay community to create a myriad of LGBTQ+ support service organisations. This has resulted in the establishment of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), and Treatment Action Group (TAG), with each being the former’s organizational offspring.
GMHC, the first among the three, was the paramount of AIDS activism. Everything we know today about the disease is a result of the intensive research, advocacy and activism of AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer, along with his friends and fellow activists Paul Popham, Rodger Mcfarlane, Nathan Fain, Paul Rapoport, Lawrence D. Mass, Edmund White, and more. The organization that we know today started off as an impulsive decision of friends who were frustrated of watching people they held near and dear, and may have even been romantically linked to perish one by one due to what then looked like a plague. Desperate for answers to why all their loved ones were dying, and how to save themselves and those remaining from what looked like an impending demise, these friends gathered in the living room of Kramer’s New York City apartment, and raised $7000 by passing around a hat among themselves, which gave GMHC a head start (Hill). AIDS, at that time, was a disease without a name, and at a time when the gay community’s fight towards recognition, acknowledgement and acceptance in a heteronormative world that extensively struggled to be inclusive of them was challenging enough anyway, this nameless disease wiped off almost all progress and pushed them back a few more decades. Kramer, and his then living friends worked closely with Dr. Linda Laubenstein of New York University Medical Center, who was testing every gay person she could convince to help research on the cause and ultimate remedy of AIDS (Kramer). After a long strenuous battle with the media who wasn’t recognizing the pandemic, a government that wasn’t ready to fund for AIDS, and also a significant portion of the gay community itself who were just not ready to recede the progress made on what they called the sexual revolution, GMHC persisted and continued to thrive.
Just like it was during its establishment, GMHC is a volunteer run non-profit support organization that continues to spread AIDS awareness, provides therapeutic treatment to patients, people who lost loved ones, and maintains a safe space for dialogue for anyone who faced discrimination because of their HIV status. In its earlier days, GMHC ran a crisis hotline where people who were either infected, lost loved ones, or those who were either evicted or faced discriminated at work places because of HIV/AIDS could share their burden. And today, with the sponsorship from large scale businesses, GMHC organizes its annual AIDS Walk, which is the largest awareness campaign for AIDS in North America (Special Events, GMHC).
Because this disease was only prevalent in gay community, and only men at first, all guesses as to what caused it went straight to the one thing that made gay men different than their heterosexual counterparts — their sexuality. The only feasible answer was to convince gay men into refraining from fornicating, which caused a major stir (Kramer). But soon enough, the pandemic reached a peak, and more and more people succumbed to it, which included women, whether lesbian or otherwise, and even children.
And thus, it was widely understood that tackling this pandemic and the injustices caused by it needed a more intensive and direct approach, and something that was inclusive of all HIV/AIDS patients, and not only exclusive to gay men. Larry Kramer, along with the GMHC board thus went on to set up ACT UP in 1987, which aimed to do just so. The colloquial term for the idiom “act up” is “showing disobedience” or “misbehave”. While the organization does not aim any behavior as such, the demonstrations, advocacy and activism which is aimed against authorities such as the police, government officials, politicians and religious organizations etc. looks exactly like “acting up” against some form of authority (‘About Us’, ACT UP). ACT UP went on to become the most influential AIDS activists organization in the 1980-90’s with its autonomous and chic street protestors readily engaging in every major city in North America (Rist).
Unfortunately, while effective in advocacy and spreading awareness, ACT UP’s vision and aims seemed short-sighted for many that were under the threat of HIV, because the most important thing that was needed by the community to survive was treatment. This led to the creation of TAG, which was essentially the treatment and data committee of ACT UP. After an initial failure to retrieve an effective drug due to a campaign against the FDA that ensued the repercussions of HIV/AIDS patients getting untested medicine which had little to no effect on HIV whatsoever (Gingrich-Philbrook), TAG, in 1992, went on to become a separate volunteer-run organization that worked exclusively with government officials, drug researchers and FDA officials to find and speed up the development of HIV therapies and treatment (‘About Us’). One of the most remarkable work TAG advocates is the awareness they raised about the impact of Tuberculosis (TB) was having on HIV patients. The one thing that the HIV virus does is that it destroys the human immune system, making it susceptible to every kind of disease there is. TAG advocates and activists pressed the government and the pharmaceutical industry to research the long-term effects of the drugs that were to be introduced to HIV/AIDS patients in order to find the best effective antidote, and to lessen the risk of side-effects. In 2007, TAG received a $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to foster increased international advocacy on TB/HIV research and treatment.