The Fight of Ignorance against aids



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Ashley Tarr

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Eng. 101

The Fight of Ignorance against AIDS

ACT UP, an organization pegged for its moral ambiguity and sexual deviance pushed through the 1980’s and the Gay Rights Movement to put a spotlight on AIDS and who it truly affected. ACT UP is an organization that might have started with an innovative approach to spreading awareness, but was poorly executed by having the response of the people to associate the unacceptable behaviors of ACT UP members with the illness of AIDS. This AIDS activist group understood that there was a problem with the information that society was being fed about this new and alarming disease. However, the solution for this problem was for the group to rebel against society’s lack of acceptance by forcing information upon them in a sometimes sexual and generally obscene manner. Yet, ACT UP was still a political organization pushing for better treatment and acknowledgement of the AIDS affected populous. Noted to have started, what is said to be, not only a new social movement, but that of a cultural movement. The meaning to why ACT UP tries to raise awareness for the people affected is to give them better treatment, because understanding that better treatment is deserved, can help to prevent a repeat of history. The progression of ACT UP being an unruly obscene organization, then starting a cultural movement of awareness and understanding has made significant strides towards avoiding the “ordinary horizon of expectation,” like history has previously shown (Sontag 29).

The Aids Coalition to Unleash Power, ACT UP, is an organization that was able to spread their message, but in a not so conventional manor. ACT UP is an organization known to hand out condoms with their reading material, have kiss-ins, disrupt Mets games to spread the word on AIDS and have even gone so far as to fill water guns with “blood”. Due to spreading the word on AIDS, ACT UP was stigmatized as a “gay” group, because AIDS was viewed as a “gay disease.” Trying to grow as an organization, ACT UP’s methods to share information was positive, making the group much more credible. Through the groups’ credibility, ACT UP started to become involved in politics. The group became dynamic and started to receive republican support, both Bush and Regan agreed with ACT UP to find better treatment for those infected with the disease. The disease was the invisible killer, it had slaughtered thousands of innocent people, nearly “one AIDS death every half hour (Gamson 49).” Due to this, the government stepped in, largely due to the thought of the people that, “The government has blood on its hands (49).” The government stepped in, but not because its people held their tongues about it. Through the joined voices of ACT UP a cultural movement has taken place.


ACT UP created a counter culture bringing gays, lesbians, black, whites, and all other diverse people together for a common goal, working to fight against AIDS. ACT UP pushed to constantly clarify that it was not a “gay” group; AIDS affects everyone, a new born, a heterosexual couple, a sexual promiscuous homosexual, even blood transfusion patients who had a very misfortunate accident. Relentlessly throughout the eighties, ACT UP was stigmatized regardless of what they said, however they still rapidly gained membership. Having chapters in many cities across the United States, New York City had one of the largest chapters with nearly 3,000 members and boasting hundreds at weekly gatherings. Through their rally cries and more contemporary methods, they have grabbed the attention of the people, enough so to sway the surgeon general and public health officials to agree that it destroys the lives of everyone, not just one stigmatized group. ACT UP has become more than just a group fighting for equal treatment for AIDS, it has become the foundation for which the people have spoken and created a cultural movement through.

ACT UP is responsible for the new cultural movement, as well as having a hand in ridding people living with AIDS of some of the ignorance that is cast upon them. This cultural movement has provided a blunt yet effective way of getting the attention of people to inform them. Ignorance is the key to many of the problems associated with other diseases throughout history. If ignorance is to blame for many diseases like Syphilis, Polio, and Leprosy for “plaguing” people than the answer is to not be unprepared for the next incurable disease, but spread awareness, thus preventing history from repeating. Sontag had the belief that a disease with a cure will lose daunting misconceptions, making it just another disease not a plague. Sontag’s idea meshes with the purpose and goals of the ACT UP group, “Even the disease most fraught with meaning can become just an illness...It is bound to happen with AIDS, when the illness is much better understood and, above all, treatable (Sontag 29).” The purpose is to raise awareness and eliminate obliviousness to increase safety.

It is not a question on whether another new disease will come or not, the question is how the people of the world will react to it. History has not been promising, giving little hope to the true loss of stigmas that are often formed from fear and unawareness when a new disease arises. AIDS is a new-born in the realm of its existence, yet this disease has caused a huge crack in humanity. The human race has the uncanny ability to detach themselves from compassion and kindness and replace it with hatred and fear. Treating others with no remorse and putting energy in the form of blame when a united front should be taken to address AIDS as a world issue. AIDS is an illness affecting every corner of this Earth, so why not start a global movement? If we are to learn from the mistakes made yesterday, then we have to fix and prevent them today. ACT UP has a promising significance in the role of eliminating AIDS, or at least the ignorance of it for now. ACT UP has strived to right the wrong and inform the people of the world that AIDS is not only an issue for those infected, but for anyone who isn’t educated about it. Similar to what Susan Sontag has said, AIDS will one day be comparable to today’s flu and how shameful it be that humanity for each other was lost during the age of AIDS.

Works Cited



"Gamson, Joshua."Silence, Death, and the Invisible Enemy: AIDS Activism and Social Movement Newness". Michael Burroway, et. al. (Ed.). Ethnography Unbound: Power and Resistance in the Modern Metropolis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Sontag, Susan. AIDS and Its Metaphors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 27 Oct. 1988. Print.


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