• IdentificationICU.SPCL.ACTUP
  • TitleGuide to the ACT UP Chicago Records1969-1996
  • PublisherUniversity of Chicago Library
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Date1969-1996
  • Physical Description17 linear feet (24 boxes)
  • RepositorySpecial Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.
  • AbstractACT UP Chicago was a grassroots, direct action, activist group formed to bring attention to the AIDS crisis. The group also agitated for increased AIDS funding and research, as well as protection of the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. Correspondence, notes, clippings, and newsletters in the collection track the work of ACT UP Chicago between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s. The records describe major protests undertaken by ACT UP Chicago, as well as issues of HIV/AIDS specific to Chicago and Illinois. The large number of clippings and periodicals, from both popular and alternative media, provide information on media coverage of HIV/AIDS, gay and lesbian issues, and leftist politics. The collection also includes examples of the ACT UP’s distinctive graphic style displayed on posters, flyers, stickers, and buttons.

© The contents of this finding aid are the copyright of the University of Chicago Library

Gender Studies and Sexuality

Politics, Public Policy and Political Reform

Chicago and Illinois

Series III does not include access copies for some of the material in the series. Researchers will need to consult with staff before requesting material from this series. The remainder of the collection is open for research.

When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: ACT UP Chicago. Records, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

ACT UP Chicago (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) formed in the late 1980s as a grassroots activist group committed to direct action protest for people with AIDS (PWAs) and AIDS/HIV awareness. Angry at government inaction and indifference at the rapidly increasing number of AIDS deaths in the 1980s, ACT UP sought to turn fear and sorrow into anger expressed through political action. The slogan, “ACT UP, fight back, fight AIDS,” is emblematic of the ACT UP ethos. Part of a broader coalition of protests groups addressing AIDS and homophobia that formed beginning in the mid-1980s, ACT UP was a decentralized group made up of many branch organizations, with approximately eighty chapters by 1993. ACT UP New York was the founding branch, first receiving public attention for its Wall Street protest in 1987, which challenged the convoluted and slow FDA approval process for AIDS drugs, and the high price of the first generation of AIDS drugs like AZT. ACT UP was noted for its distinctive protest tactics including street theatre, zap actions, and bold graphics on visual materials like posters, stickers, and t-shirts. ACT UP also pursued legal, political, and research strategies, pressing politicians to provide support for PWAs and AIDS education, and seeking a voice in research and development agendas of drug companies.

ACT UP Chicago formed in the late 1980s and remained active through the early 1990s. Like other ACT UP groups, Chicago experienced internal struggles to define the mission of ACT UP, and the relationship between ACT UP and leftist and radical politics more broadly. Members experienced divisions between those who saw ACT UP’s sole mission as finding a cure for AIDS, and those who saw ACT UP within a broader challenge to structural oppressions with in the United States. Internal debates also focused on whether ACT UP should place special emphasis on the multiply marginalized like women, people of color, and the incarcerated. ACT UP Chicago was involved in protests against AMA policies, against political appointees in AIDS policy positions, for safe sex education in the public schools, and against mandatory HIV testing for health care workers.

The ACT UP Chicago Records consist of four series. Series I consists of alphabetical subject files relating to the institutional history of ACT UP, the AIDS crisis, and gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender life and politics. Series II consists of alphabetically arranged periodicals, which include materials from the alternative press and independently produced ‘zines. The series also includes clippings from the popular press. Series III includes audio and video cassettes. Series IV consists of artifacts and oversized objects including posters and political buttons.

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:

  • Names
    • Gould, Deborah Bejosa
    • ACT UP (Organization)
  • Subject
    • AIDS activists -- United States
    • AIDS (Disease) -- Political aspects -- United States
    • Gays -- United States -- Political activity
    • Gays -- United States -- Social conditions
    • Lesbians -- United States -- Social conditions
    • Lesbians -- United States -- Political activity