Mobilizing Queer Rage—Mapping Key ACT UP Protests in the Fight Against AIDS


In thinking about mapping and what maps can reveal to a reader, my thoughts kept centering around the physical use and acessibility of space (or lack thereof). Activism and advocacy, as redefined by ACT UP and the AIDS activism movement, centered itself around the usage of space, often creating, finding, invading spaces in order to bring awareness to the issues at hand. New York City, a city which simulatenously unites and sgregates, acted as one of the main places for ACT UP demonstrations and actions through the ’80s and ’90s - the other being Washington D.C. Entering exclusionary spaces, such as Wall Street or the New York Stock Exchange, which were not made for marginalized identities, or public places like Central Park, meant for public consumption rather than political revolution, becomes a transgressive and radical act. ACT UP embraced this mentality and sought to shake up people’s perceptions through their activism. In this way, ACT UP was able to target pharmaceutical comapnies and other corporations that profited from the AIDS epidemic as well as hold the government accountable for its lack of response.

Thus in this mapping project, I sought to use StoryMaps to present a narrative through which a reader could see the development of ACT UP demonstrations by the powerless in spaces made for the powerful.

StoryMaps Project

Protests are so dependent upon the people within them. And demonstrations are often highly individual and last-minute, rather than centralized and planned. As such, it is difficult to build and form a movement that lasts and makes impactful changes (such as the Civil Rights Movement and ACT UP). My StoryMap project, Mobilizing Queer Rage, seeks to capture the breadth of ACT UP’s work at it’s peak in the late ’80s and present a picture of an organization that changed the face of AIDS through its two pronged approach - through patient advocacy within medical research and through raw activism, often charcterized by shock tactics. By seeing this unfold on a map, the reader gets a better picture of who ACT UP was attacking and holding accountable and how they did it - what institutions, with what goals, what were their own solutions. The StoryMap focuses on a period from 1987 to 1991. While it is short, these were ACT UP’s most involved years during which they were able to raise awarness and begin to change the narratives and realities surrounding AIDS and AIDS victims.


For this project, I referenced the ACT UP historical archives and its chronology of ACT UP demonstrations in the 1980s and ’90s. The archives recount many of the actions that ACT UP undertook and their resaoning and goals for each. I also drew from an NPR article recounting a partial history of the ACT UP movement and its major moments.

In addition to these ACT UP histories, I also used the US National Library of Medicine exhibit titled Surving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture. The exhibit contains many images from various demonstrations, including the protest against the National Institute of Health, to which the National Library of Medicine belongs.

Finally, I drew from the 2012 documentary about the AIDS epidemic, titled “How To Survive a Plague”. The film was an Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature and is worth watching if you have the time. I think this documentary really supplements the StoryMap project I created because it contains so much raw footage from the protest years of ACT UP, including the infamous “Stop the Church” protest. ACT UP was so focused on forcing people to see and listen to AIDS victims. This documentary is able to portray the visibility of the desperation and anger of queer people at the time that defined much of what ACT UP did and the reality of AIDS.