Act Up and How We View Our History

Specter writes that:

Instead of a colossus run largely by a small cohort of white men, [Schulman] argues, it was more of a loose confederation of affinity groups. … When we think of ACT UP, Schulman wants us to think of the fight for universal health care, racial justice, and radical democracy—and to recognize that “a few committed activists, when focused on being effective, can accomplish a lot.” …

She assails David France, whom she accuses of using her research to “nefarious ends” in his powerful documentary “How to Survive a Plague.” It won mainstream approval, she thinks, precisely because it promotes a “heroic white male individual model” of activism, in contrast with the “diverse grassroots movements” revealed in the less celebrated documentary “United in Anger,” which she produced with its director, Jim Hubbard.

He notes, however:

Yet there were reasons for ACT UP’s prevailing image. A 1989 survey of the New York chapter showed that more than three-quarters of participants were younger than thirty-five and that eighty per cent were white gay men. Many were well educated, even well-off. …

“ACT UP was predominantly white and male,” she acknowledges. “But its history has been whitened in ways that obstruct the complexity.” [Larry] Kramer, she thinks, “never really understood the wide range of people who were in ACT UP, where we were coming from, and what we were doing.” …

He further observes:

ACT UP certainly contained affinity groups, including the Majority Action Committee, for people of color, and the Women’s Caucus. But did members who were white and male have an advantage in swaying a bureaucracy that was also overwhelmingly white and male? That’s what Kramer implied, and, though Schulman doesn’t dispute the point, she thinks that the group’s true power lay in a concerted display of strength through diversity. …

[Schulman’s] insistence on ACT UP’s diversity is important and correct. Still, the group’s most famous image—the inverted pink triangle of the “Silence = Death” logo—didn’t just link AIDS and the Holocaust; it was also an assertion of a gay identity, as not incidental but integral.

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