ACT UP Reunites To Celebrate History
On June 22, twenty-six years after the founding of AIDS activist group ACT UP, current and former members will come together to celebrate achievements, remember lost friends and plan the future. Just don't call it a reunion!
"I was active with ACT UP back in the day," said Braking the Cycle AIDS Ride Director Eric Epstein, who co-founded the group's youth education committee, and was active in spearheading the effort to make condoms available in city schools and improve AIDS education. "And I am looking forward to getting together and seeing the people who we were in the trenches with almost a quarter century ago. There were a lot of us who didn't make it, but a fair number of us are still here, and haven't seen each other for a while."
Epstein felt that people are just now beginning to look back at that period in New York City, as evidenced by the recent exhibit "AIDS in New York -- The First Five Years," and documentaries like "How to Survive a Plague." While he has kept AIDS work at the forefront of his life, others went in different directions, and are only now revisiting this seminal period in our community's formation.
"On one hand it can be seen as encouraging: treatments are prolonging lives and helping people in a lot of ways, and after 10 years, infections are just starting to go down, with one exception: gay men of color," said Epstein. "It is frustrating to a lot of us in ACT UP that this hasn't gone away. As much progress as we've made, our community is still bearing the brunt of the one place where infections are still going up in this country. There is an awareness that the safer sex messages we were hammering home so hard 25 years ago are not being heard in young populations of color"
This community-building event will reunite ACT UP members who confronted a government that showed a malignant neglect toward the AIDS crisis and those who were dying at a frightening pace. It was the work of these brave activists that turned anger into action, saving countless lives.
Epstein said there was a sense of frustration that safe sex messages were not being heard, that people in power in government agencies don't seem to be getting the urgency of it, and that people who are running mainstream LGBT organizations are not putting AIDS at the top of their agenda anymore.
"A lot of us look at that start to see what we can do to steer this conversation," said Epstein. "For me, I'm interested in seeing what we can do to help move the conversation along and make some difference in infection rates."
In what reads like a Who’s Who of AIDS activism is the RSVP list of notable names, with former POZ editor Walter Armstrong, journalist Jay Blotcher, activist Bill Dobbs, playwright David Drake, amfAR CEO Kevin Frost, blogger Joe Jervis, playwright Larry Kramer, Gay City News founder Troy Masters and reporter Duncan Osbourne, journalist Ann Northrup, organizer Jackie Rudin, and many more.
"Dozens of folks have signed up to attend and I feel good just seeing all those names on the RSVP list," said longtime activist Michael Petrelis on his website. "Wish I could be there in person, but will simply be sending good vibes to my friends and colleagues. I can’t wait to see pix and maybe videos from the gathering."
In a powerful Gay City News story, editor Paul Schindler interviews ACT UP founding member Alan Klein, who said he was impacted by the death of longtime AIDS activist Spencer Cox last December.
"Some people are markers that stand for so many other people that we lost," Klein told Gay City News. "If you talk to people at ACT UP, there are always seminal deaths that stand for the deaths of so many others. There is no way for a 20-something’s mind to absorb all those deaths."
Klein recognized that powerful bond of shared grief, and wanted to bring his cohorts together to deal with those feelings, and their intensity, to "create a safe space for people to talk about these serious issues or about what they’ve been doing for the past number of years," he said. "Maybe it will be a reboot of our experience in ACT UP."
The ACT UP/NY Alumni (Just Don’t Call it a Reunion) Reunion will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, June 22 at 49 Grove St., New York, NY 10014. For more info or to RSVP, visit