Historically, the national and international response to the HIV epidemic lagged behind the passionate work of dedicated individuals who tended the sick, challenged prejudices against people living with HIV, educated their communities, and fought for resources and research. Acknowledging the crucial work of all AIDS activists, Why We Fight focuses on the contributions of those whose work was undertaken in New York City, which was an early epicenter for both the recognition of the disease and the grassroots response to the epidemic. The New York Public Library is a major repository for this history, preserving the archives of key organizations and individuals that have been pivotal in the response to AIDS.

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In a 1989 black and white photograph a large group of protestors is pictured outside of New York City Hall. Signs saying 'Silence=Death" can be seen throughout the crowd.

Douglas Rowell. Photograph of Target City Hall Action, 1989

In 1989, ACT UP turned its attentions to then mayor of New York Ed Koch, taking his administration to task for what activists felt was an insufficient response to the HIV epidemic in the city. The group called for increased support for the Health and Hospitals Corporation to meet the mounting AIDS caseload; housing for the thousands of homeless New Yorkers living with HIV; prevention education and treatment for the city’s 200,000 users of injection drugs; and AIDS education in public schools. Five thousand people marched on City Hall, and more than 200 people were arrested as they blocked traffic in downtown Manhattan.



A man in a striped shirt looks away from the camera with a furrowed brow and a hand on his chest.

A Prophecy Before Our Time: The Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic Opens in 1972, Part Two: A Wasted Opportunity

Guest post by Perry Brass.

Lenny Ebreo, Marc Rabinowitz, and I were thrilled about the forum that took place at Washington Square Methodist Church in 1972. Because of the forum, Lenny now had some connection with the New York City Department of Public Health, which after John Lindsey's administration had been re-organized around local community health centers. He began to fixate on the 

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United in Anger: A History of ACT UP

 United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is an inspiring documentary about the birth and life of the AIDS activist movement from the perspective of the people in the trenches fighting the epidemic. Utilizing oral histories of members of ACT UP, as well as rare archival footage, the film depicts the efforts of ACT UP as it battles corporate greed, social indifference, and government neglect. The documentary draws extensively on original video in the Library's Manuscripts & Archives division, including footage from the ACT UP Oral History Project.

More Exhibitions

  • The Pleasure of Rebellion

    June 3–July 1, 2024
    Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

    The Pleasure of Rebellion gathers the archives of Black lesbian and feminist writers Alexis De Veaux