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New Project to Gather Oral Histories on San Fran AIDS Activism

Thursday Aug 3, 2017

The GLBT Historical Society has launched a new oral history project under the guidance of historian Joey Plaster to chronicle, preserve and share the history of ACT UP/San Francisco and other AIDS direct-action groups in the city from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.

The San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project is currently seeking veterans of the city's AIDS activist movement interested in giving interviews, as well as volunteers to help with the initiative.

ACT UP/San Francisco was a highly visible and influential group of militant AIDS activists associated with a national network of independent organizations. The group emerged from earlier AIDS direct action in the city starting in 1984; it remained active into the mid-1990s. The project also will document the wider context by 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 veteran AIDS activists and younger organizers involved in the current upsurge 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.

Funded by California Humanities, the San Francisco ACT UP/ Oral History Project will be active through 2019. Outcomes will include the following:

  • Oral histories with at least 40 former members of ACT UP/San Francisco and other AIDS activist groups to be permanently archived by the GLBT Historical Society.
  • An exhibition at the GLBT History Museum incorporating high-quality documentary-style video portraits, photos and other materials.
  • A multimedia Internet presence.
  • A series of culminating public events offering opportunities for dialogue and debate

    Through oral history recordings, the project will document ACT UP/San Francisco's legacy of protest and politics. In addition, the project will focus on the unique artistic and sexual cultures fostered through the constellation of San Francisco groups of which it was a part, including AIDS Action Pledge; Mobilization Against AIDS; Stop AIDS Now or Else (SANOE); Queer Nation/San Francisco; Boy With Arms Akimbo/Girl With Arms Akimbo; Bad Cop/No Donut; Diseased Pariah News; and Transgender Nation.

    For more information about providing an interview or volunteering, contact Joey Plaster at To take part in the conversation and get regular updates, join the project's Facebook group and visit the project's page on the GLBT Historical Society website.

    For more information on the GLBT Historical Society, visit


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