Activists Launch ACT UP/LA Oral History Project

On World AIDS Day, December 1, 2021, former members of ACT UP/LA announced the launch of the ACT UP Los Angeles Oral History Project to capture the historic AIDS activism in the Los Angeles area from 1987 to 1997. In order to document the movement that dominated the gay community throughout the Los Angeles area for a decade, ACT UP members Mary Lucey, Nancy MacNeil, Jordan Peimer, Helene Schpak and Judy Ornelas Sisneros spent the past year planning the project, and have already begun recording interviews with other former members. The project is expected to take two to three years, and will present more than 100 interviews when completed.

ACT UP/LA shutting down the Westwood Federal building in the Fight for the Living action (for AIDS drugs, emergency federal program, an end to HIV discrimination and healthcare for all) on October 6,1989.
Photo by Chuck Stallard

The ACT UP/LA Oral History Project was mainly motivated by the continuing deaths of ACT UP/LA members whose histories have not been preserved. “Not only were voices silenced by AIDS, but we are now continually at risk of losing the stories of the people who championed their fight—some with HIV/AIDS, some without—but all people who put their lives and freedom on the line to address this loss,” said Oral History Project member Nancy MacNeil in a press release. She adds, “We need to ensure the stories get told by the voices that lived them. Everyone has the right to be the author of their own history.”

The project will preserve personal accounts of former ACT UP/LA activists online so that people will learn the inside history of the organization’s actions. Some members have already been interviewed, providing hours of personal histories of activism in the face of endless cycles of grief. A sample of outtakes from three of these interviews can be seen at
www.actupla.org.

One of the earliest chapters of ACT UP outside of New York, ACT UP/LA first organized in 1987, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose administration blatantly refused to acknowledge the growing AIDS crisis. It differed from chapters in other cities in its focus on women and prisoners living with HIV/AIDS. Per their press release, “ACT UP/LA marched on federal buildings, state buildings, L.A. County and City government offices, insurance companies, hospitals, churches, prisons, political fundraisers, the movie and television industries, homes of bigots and traveled out of town to protest in Congress, the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, the CDC, FDA, NIH, international AIDS conferences, and presidential campaigns and conventions.” Such actions forced the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to add the first AIDS ward to County/USC Medical Center and pressured the California Department of Corrections to address the healthcare needs of prisoners with AIDS.

The ACT UP/LA Oral History Project needs donations to fund this important collection of interviews without which many histories of the aging community of Los Angeles AIDS activists will not be captured and preserved.


For more information, or to donate, visit: www.actupla.org or email the project at: [email protected].