This Is about
People Dying: The Tactics of Early ACT UP and Lesbian Avengers
in New York City _
(excerpt) based upon interviews with Maxine Wolfe by Laraine Sommella
From the book: "Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance", edited by Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter, Bay Press, Seattle Washington, 1997
Laraine Sommella: Before we talk about tactics for taking and remaking of public space, I would like to ask you about the activism that lead up to ACT UP New York and what other groups were involved in direct action that perhaps you were involved in or knew about?
Maxine Wolfe: Everyone sort of thinks that ACT UP came out of the blue and in fact, there's a certain mythology that Larry Kramer gave this talk one night at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center and everyone went "Oh my God" and then they formed ACT UP and nothing had been there. As usual, that's not true. That's a discontinuous history.
LS: Yes, people don't necessarily think in terms of development.
MW: In 1986 I was at the first public meeting of what was called the Lesbian and Gay Antidefamation League, which became GLAAD, and which was held in the New York City Community Center. I went with a lesbian friend, and we were in this room with about three hundred gay men and four lesbians, and we were sitting next to these two guys and one turned to the other and said, "Wow, this is the first thing that's happened in fifteen years." And I turned to her and said, "Where have these people been?"
A brief overview--with the last two years leading up to the formation of ACT UP New York being the most important. After the first few years of the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) and especially after the firehouse was arsoned in 1974, most of the gay male community in New York and a few Democratic Party dykes focused on getting the gay rights bill passed in New York City and New York State. Basically they became part of the Democratic Party organization, whether formally or informally, and attempted to orchestrate passage of bills behind the scenes. At the same time, in the gay male mainstream, "the community," certain professional, business, and religious groups formed. While those organizations and networks were totally reformist, if political at all, they enabled the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) to form in the early 1980s. There was a new basis to get money, to know where people were, to create an infrastructure. That was not there before. But for a lot of that period, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, that is what gay men were doing. Most lesbians were not involved with gay men in activism and were basically either in the antirape o