ACT UP Acts Up at NYC Pride with Provocative Message
Unhampered by political obligations or fears of losing funding, ACT UP New York can do things like start an AIDS education campaign whose official message is to "Fuck Smarter! Fight Harder! FIGHT AIDS!"
Since 1987, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) has been completely volunteer-driven and private - an effort to stand up against the seeming indifference to AIDS that the federal government and big pharma were displaying then. On Sunday, July 1, the 26-year-old organization marched the streets of New York City and handed out Fuck Smarter Toolkits, complete with lube, stickers and informative flyers. In all, about 5,000 packets were handed out.
"In 30+ years of the AIDS epidemic, LGBT people have seen our communities ravaged by HIV. Today, we have prevention tools like Pre- and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP), but we have to take more responsibility for our sexual health as a community," said longtime ACT UP member Jim Eigo in a statement. "We cannot surrender half of a new generation to the virus that stole so many from the last."
If the offensive language is disagreeable with anyone, it likely won't affect the goings on at ACT UP, where a separation from sponsors gives it an edge that non-profits lack - full sovereignty.
"One of the advantages to having an org that is staffed by volunteers and doesn't have governmental contract is that there's no leash on the work," Eric Sawyer told SFGN. He's one of the co-founders of ACT UP and has been a member since its inception. "There's no fear of losing funding or jobs - all the money is private and comes in through donations or fundraising. It allows us to speak truth to power without any filters or muzzles."
Sawyer, whose day job is working for UN AIDS, explained that ACT UP has been responsible for making waves all over the country by putting pressure on pharmaceutical companies to release AIDS medications in a more efficient and a faster way.
What used to take over a decade, he said, now take two or three years. Specifically, he pointed out as an example of ACT UP's efforts - which have been covered in documentaries like "How to Survive a Plague," which streams on Netflix - any person in New York who makes less than $42,000 a year is eligible for free medication.
"The AIDS crisis had been going on for a few years in New York, and the mayor and president weren't talking about it," said Brandon Cuicchi, ACT UP's secretary. "A largely LGBT population started the group to protest the lack of response."
And their recent demonstration was on par with the rest.
"We did what we set out to do. We wanted to hand out thousands of flyers, stickers and lube packets. I think we got the message across," Cuicchi told SFGN. "We were happy to embrace slang and talk about sex in the way that everyday LGBT people talk about sex. We were glad to use the word 'fuck.'"
According to ACT UP and the reason they held their recent demonstration:
New statistics released by the CDC confirm that more than half of young gay men or MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender women may be HIV-positive by age 50. In response to this clear threat to the queer community, ACT UP demands an end to the denial that has allowed nationwide HIV prevention budgets to be slashed for years.
Even locally, the NY Department of Health has been cutting prevention funding where it is needed most. New HIV statistics show that an African-American MSM is 6 times more likely to become infected with HIV than a white MSM.
"We see local AIDS service organizations, like Gay Men of African Descent, that help underserved communities are having their budgets slashed by the city," said member Annette Gaudino. "This lack of funding and an institutional denial about the realities of how LGBT people have sex are putting this new generation at risk."
To learn more about ACT UP, go to ActUpNY.com or check them out on Facebook.