people living AIDS formed coalitions for each other years before then US present ronald reagan publicly acknowledged AIDS. people living with AIDS mobilized to feed, house, nurse, care and fight for themselves and each other. they became their own researchers, lobbyists and drug smugglers. and this was done before the advent of the internet and social media. people with living AIDS created the template of how to survive a plague as governments willfully fail us.
one of the people who was in the thick of AIDS advocacy from the mid-1980’s until his death in 1990, was queer activist, author and queer historian, vito russo.
vito’s activism was threaded throughout his entire existence. always an out and proud gay man, vito’s activism began immediately after the stonewall riots when he joined the then emerging gay activists alliance. he would later independently organize camp-film festivals examining the representation of gay and lesbians in film. his 1981 book “the celluloid closet” was a culmination of this work.
as one of the first out-gay men to create and host a cable access show in 1983, vito’s commitment to challenging the lgbtq representation in medio led his to co-found GLAAD.
after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, vito became an active member of ACT-UP, one of the most influential and effective organizing groups in history. during a 1988 an ACT-UP demonstration in front of the new york state capitol in albany, vito delivered a passionate speech entitled “why we fight” (full speech) that till this day still resonates. especially now as we all are now surviving a plague.
“why we fight” is a reminder of who we are and all the power we posses as people. it is also a call to action to continue to organize and survive with each other – every step of the way. it is also a promise of hope that this plague will end and we will win.