AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, turns 25 today. In the early days of the AIDS crisis, the group was known for civil disobedience to obtain funding for research into the epidemic and care for people with the disease. The group was created by playwright and activist Larry Kramer in New York.
In an ACT UP demonstration marking the anniversary today, JoeMyGod reports that nine members chained themselves to the entrance of the New York Stock Exchange at the opening bell.
Dallas had its own version of ACT UP prior to the formation of the national group. The Dallas version was known as G*U*T*S, or Gay Urban Truth Squad.
G*U*T*S staged a number of demonstrations including chalking outlines of bodies in front of Dallas City Hall — and outside the Convention Center as President George H.W. Bush spoke inside. An earlier protest involved staking an empty field on Carlisle Street with crosses honoring the fallen.
Another ACT UP demonstration in front of Parkland Hospital called on the facility to prescribe AZT, the only known drug at the time that helped combat the HIV virus. The hospital claimed it didn’t have enough money to give the drug to everyone who needed it.
In most cities, ACT UP demonstrators and those working with local governments to provide resources for people with AIDS were different people. Not in Dallas.
John Thomas, executive director of the AIDS Resource Center (now Resource Center Dallas), was among the ACT UP demonstrators at Parkland. He met with city and county officials and told them he thought he could call off the demonstrators if money was appropriated to get AZT to people who needed it.
When John got the money, John stopped demonstrating.
Most of the founders of G*U*T*S/ACT UP Dallas, including John Thomas, Bill Hunt, Mike Richards, Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo, died of AIDS in the 1990s.
This evening, USA Film Festival screens How To Survive A Plague that includes the story of ACT UP. Arnold Wayne Jones moderates a discussion after the film.