Dying of Red Tape: AIDS and the Fight for Lives Worth Saving

Last November, we shared a slice of media history with you: The AIDS Connection, an all-night special broadcast intended to address misinformation surrounding the AIDS virus in 1987. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was a featured panelist. Now, we’re sharing another historic example of the fight against AIDS – venturing outside the experts on television to protestors in the streets. ACT UP and other activist groups called on Dr. Fauci to provide equal access to drug trials for AIDS.

In May of 1990, protestors marched to the NIH building in Washington DC to demand universal access to drugs intended to treat AIDS. Despite the considerable role the NIH played in developing treatment for AIDS – even winning a Nobel Prize for their contributions – those infected continued to die at an alarming rate and were refused treatment for discriminatory reasons such as recreational drug use. And while the country was very slow to acknowledge the disproportionate effect AIDS had on the gay community, other at-risk groups such as women and people of color continued to be excluded from the national dialogue. This never-aired footage, shot for the award-winning show The 90’s by Videographer Eddie Becker (“The Washington Outsider”), documents grass roots efforts for universal justice and the refusal to compromise with the racist and homophobic actions of the federal government. 

Now, in late 2020, with the promising developments of multiple experimental COVID-19 vaccines and an incoming U.S. administration promising to implement aggressive new measures on Day 1, it is important to remember that such a mammoth coordinated health response is unprecedented. With significant data showing the disproportionate effect that the novel Coronavirus has had on black, latinx, and other minority groups in the U.S., it’s critical to learn from our history of discrimination as the vaccines are distributed in the months and years ahead. We have the unique opportunity to learn from the past in order to demand a better future.



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