Making a Health Crisis Visible
The LGBTQ community asserts needs outside a convention of medical professionals.INSIDE THE HILTON HOTEL ON MICHIGAN AVENUE, the American Medical Association (AMA) hosted its 1991 annual convention. Outside, members and allies of the LGBTQ community decried the AMA's role in the ongoing HIV/AIDs crisis, chanting “AIDS education not AIDS segregation" and holding signs declaring “Health Care is a Right.” In contrast to protests that boycotted certain spaces or intentionally occupied others, this demonstration did not fully disrupt the operations of the AMA's conference. However, with its visible presence, list of demands, and educational materials, the group put pressure on the medical community while raising public awareness.
ORGANIZED BY THE CHICAGO CHAPTER OF ACT UP (AIDS COALITION TO UNLEASH POWER), the AMA protests were preceded by a teach-in at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Activists shared information on the background of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, detailed information on the demonstration, and standard answers to press questions. Given Chicago’s legacy of police violence at protests, citizen observers—self-appointed neutral parties—came to observe both protester and police activity in case of conflict. A few skirmishes broke out, but the gathering remained generally peaceful.
ACT UP AND OTHER GROUPS PERSISTED in raising awareness and reducing stigma surrounding the disease that took tens of thousands of lives each year. Their activism helped push the development of improved medical treatment for HIV/AIDS and contributed to continuing LGBTQ movements for social visibility and equal rights into the present day.