ACT UP/San Francisco Oral History Project

In the summer of 2017, I launched a wide-scale oral history project to chronicle, preserve and share the history of ACT UP/San Francisco and other AIDS direct-action groups in the city. ACT UP/San Francisco was a highly visible and influential group of militant AIDS activists associated with a national network of independent organizations that shared the name AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

ACT UP/San Francisco emerged from earlier AIDS direct-action efforts in the city starting in 1984; it remained active into the mid-1990s. The project will document this wider context by also gathering oral histories on AIDS direct action by other local groups, including Enola Gay, the ARC/AIDS Vigil, AIDS Action Pledge, ACT UP/Golden Gate and Prevention Point.

In addition to creating historical documentation, the project aims to foster dialogue between ACT UP veterans and younger organizers active in the current upwelling of social justice organizing. The initiative will train people ages 18–29 to conduct oral histories and to actively shape project outcomes. Through round-table conversations, listening parties and other public events, the project will draw on the history of AIDS direct action in San Francisco to inform contemporary resistance.

 

Project outcomes, from 2017-2019, include:

  • Oral histories with at least 40 former members of ACT UP/San Francisco
  • An exhibit at the GLBT Museum incorporating high-quality radio documentary-style “audio portraits,” photos, and other materials
  • A multi-media web-based component
  • A series of culminating events offering opportunities for dialogue and debate

Through oral history recordings, we will document ACT UP/San Francisco’s legacy of protest and politics — as well as the unique artistic and sexual cultures fostered through the larger constellation of organizations and cultural productions of which it was a part: AIDS Action Pledge; Mobilization Against AIDS; SANOE; Queer Nation/San Francisco; Boy With Arms Akimbo; Bad Cop/No Donut; Diseased Pariah News; and Transgender Nation, among others.

 

Project Staff:

  • Director: Joey Plaster
  • GLBTHS Executive Director, Terry Beswick
  • Head of the GLBT Museum Working Group: Elisabeth Cornu
  • GLBTHS Archivist: Joanna Black

Project Advisors:

  • Amy Sueyoshi, Associate Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University
  • Marc Stein, Professor of History at San Francisco State University
  • Gerard Koskovich, public historian formerly active in ACT UP/San Francisco, Queer Nation/San Francisco, and Bad Cop/No Donut.
  • Laura Wexler, Professor of American Studies and Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University

Funders

This project is made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.