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AIDS  Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, is an activist group. It was founded in 1987 by playwright, author and activist Larry Kramer at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Centre in New York city. ACT UP takes direct action to draw attention to the AIDS crisis.

The group objected to the lack of access to desperately needed experimental AIDS drugs, and also wanted a national policy to fight the disease. Its protest demonstrations had major results. For example, in 1989 it forced pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome to lower the price of the only approved AIDS drug, the antiretroviral AZT. The group also protested against the Catholic Church’s public opposition to safer sex education and condom distribution.

ACT UP has been criticised for being too militant. However, its media-savvy direct action succeeded in putting the AIDS crisis on the political map, and made sure people with HIV/AIDS could be heard speaking out against the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

Related Themes and Topics



W Johansson and W A Percy, Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence (New York: Haworth Press, 1994)

H Lune, Urban Action Networks: HIV / AIDS and Community Organizing in New York City (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)

D Crimp and S Epstein, Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)



Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease caused by infections resulting from a weakened immune system due to the HIV virus. It leads to failure of the immune system and is usually fatal. It is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that weakens vital cells in the immune system, and leads to AIDS. There are two strands: HIV-1, which leads to immunity suppression; and HIV-2, which is not as potent and is only common in West Africa. HIV is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids.