April 26, 2006: ACT UP/Chicago meets every first and third Wednesday,
alternating between Coffee Chicago (5256 N. Broadway) and the John Merlo Library (644 W. Belmont)  The Following Meeting  is May 3 at the Library at 6:30 pm, etc

ACT UP/Chicago "Honored"
    by Mary Patten

On Tuesday evening, October 17, 2000, ACT UP/Chicago was inducted into the Chicago Lesbian and Gay Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame (or "Hall of Shame," as some have called it) is a city-sponsored institution which hosts a yearly self-congratulatory bash attended by the Mayor, the "luminaries" of the mainstream LGBT communities, various local politicians, and the media.

How did it come to pass that an organization, once notorious for hounding Mayor Richard M. Daley for the city's deplorable record on AIDS, was now positioned to receive an honor from him, complete with commemorative plaque and publicity photo?

A few months earlier, some former members of ACT UP/Chicago decided to nominate the organization posthumously, as a way to open up some critical space to address the fact that AIDS is not over, not in Chicago, not anywhere. These folks put out the word as broadly as possible to the surviving members of ACT UP/Chicago still living in the city. A group of approximately twenty people began to meet in September to devise a response.

After much discussion and argument, in a process which both honored the memory of the political culture we had all shared, and which replicated many of the old dynamics of the group--alternately funny, infuriating, and sad --we agreed on a plan of action.

The choreographed routine requires that the inductees sit quietly with the Mayor on a dais while their tributes are read, and then take turns shaking hands with the him while posing for an official photo. We agreed to attend the event, but we decided to act and dress as pall-bearers at the political funeral of a dead organization. We didn't have coffins or other props, but observed a code of dress and conduct consistent with a solemn response. We stood together in two flanks facing the stage, silent until the announcement for the award to ACT UP/Chicago was made. We then took the stage, turned to the audience, and delivered our testimony (see below).

Some in the audience seemed to cringe at the prospect that we would ruin the party by shouting down their beloved Mayor. Instead, we simply ignored him. Maybe our refusal to celebrate what was, at best, an empty gesture, and at worst, an attempt at absorption and co-optation, was the most potent thing we could muster from our depleted arsenal.

The sadness and ironies which riddled the occasion were reinforced by the absence of Paul Adams, one of the most vocal participants in the planning process. Paul, who had been vociferous in arguing against what he saw as an overly-passive approach, wanted us to demand from the city a real and effective safer sex/condom distribution campaign for junior-high and high school-age youth. But Paul was too ill to attend, and his voice was absent. Three weeks after the event, he died.

What follows is the collaboratively-authored text that we took turns reading that evening:

"Some of us are long-term survivors of AIDS. Some of us are struggling for our lives. Others are care-givers and AIDS administrators. Many of us are activists around a host of issues. All of us are former members of ACT UP/Chicago. We have all sustained many losses because of this plague, and have fought hard against it.

"None of us can speak for, or fully represent, ACT UP/Chicago. ACT UP is dead, as are so many of the friends, lovers, comrades and colleagues who gave it shape - struggling hard for years, not just to save their own lives, but to agitate, educate, and organize to end the AIDS epidemic.

"We refuse to believe that these efforts and sacrifices were in vain. Yet, what are we to think when so many of the the same demands and the same needs remain unanswered, after 16 years and millions of deaths? What does it mean that this summer, at a women's conference in Nigeria, President Clinton, who betrayed so many promises to people with AIDS, co-opted the famous ACT UP slogan, '...we need to fight AIDS, not people with AIDS'?

"Some would call this progress. We're not so sure.

"Many people see this event tonight as a celebratory occasion, part of a long process of honoring LGBT individuals and organizations who have contributed to 'our community.' But for us, this event is full of tragic ironies. At the very point when there seems to be a 'consensus' that 'the AIDS crisis is over,' a point of view with which we profoundly disagree, it finally seems 'safe' enough, 'distant' enough, to include ACT UP/Chicago in the 'official' LGBT pantheon. To us, however, this occasion is more like a political funeral.

"What does it mean if any of us in this room congratulate ourselves on 'finally' recognizing ACT UP/Chicago as part of the 'official history' of the Chicago LGBT community? or of 'finally' being recognized by the City of Chicago?

"Each of us here yearns for our communities to honor the memory of ACT UP/Chicago. We all want to see this activism encoded, and not erased, from a chapter of militant queer history and the struggle for social justice in this country. But ACT UP/Chicago can never be adequately honored by a plaque, just as ACT UP can never be represented by any of us as individuals. It is not appropriate for any one of us to accept an award on the behalf of a dead organization.

"But we can bear witness. We each have stories to tell..."

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by Deborah B. Gould 

see also
Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame


Windy City Times

ACT UP/Chicago Is Back
by Amy Wooten

After dwindling 11 years ago, ACT UP/Chicago is on its way to being reincarnated.

Activists of all ages and backgrounds gathered Jan. 31 in an attempt to determine the focus and need for the reemergence of ACT UP/Chicago. A few former ACT UP/Chicago members were present, such as Lou Snider, to lend advice and take part. Others present were Rob Hadley, AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s Jim Pickett and students from Northwestern University’s HIV AIDS Literacy Organization ( HALO ) , to name a few.

“ACT UP is still alive in a lot of hearts,” said Hadley, who organized the meeting.

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power is a national organization committed to direct action and civil disobedience to fight AIDS and challenge discrimination against LGBT individuals. The local chapter disbanded in 1995, in large part because of the passages of many of its members and the widespread belief that HIV/AIDS became a manageable disease.

Although the intention of the forum was to determine the need and focus of the new group, former ACT UP/Chicago and Pink Angels member Gary Naham shifted the focus toward action and the creation of committees.

It was apparent that those present felt a great need to bring back ACT UP/Chicago. Many expressed extreme displeasure with the current situation and a strong desire to do something about it. Examples of important agenda items were Medicare Part D and the Department of Human Services’ treatment of people living with AIDS.

“Where AIDS is being fought, I want a piece of it,” Snider said.

The AIDS activist movement boomed after the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. ACT UP chapters dotted the nation. In early 1987, Dykes and Gay Men Against Racism and Repression protested Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson’s support of repressive AIDS laws. In 1988, the group joined forces with Chicago For Our Rights to create C-FAR ( Chicago For AIDS Rights ) . That group evolved into ACT UP/Chicago.

ACT UP/Chicago was able to triple Chicago’s AIDS budget and double the state’s. The group also got Cook County Hospital to open up its AIDS ward to women after one day of protest. The organization protested violence against people with AIDS, and supported sex-positive messages.

On Oct. 17, 2000, ACT UP/Chicago was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

April 26, 2006: ACT UP/Chicago meets every first and third Wednesday,
alternating between Coffee Chicago (5256 N. Broadway) and the John Merlo Library (644 W. Belmont)  The Following Meeting  is May 3 at the Library at 6:30 pm, etc

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