ACT UP CLEVELAND is the Cleveland chapter of the international organization, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). The coalition is a grassroots political group founded in March, 1987 at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City, with the goal of improving the quality of life for people with AIDS. It planned to achieve this by influencing public policy, taking direct action, funding medical research, treatment, and advocacy. 

In October 1987, the group gained public attention by participating in the Second National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, and then protesting through civil disobedience at the Supreme Court Building the next day. After these events more chapters began to form across the country and globally, including the Cleveland chapter. 

The ACT UP Cleveland chapter was cofounded in 1990 by Joe Carroccio, who served as the head of the chapter until his death in 2003. ACT UP Cleveland participated in rallies, marches, protests, and the dissemination of information, and was located at W. 29th Street and Detroit Avenue.  In 1993, ACT UP Cleveland began giving away clean syringes on the streets of Cleveland under the leadership of Carroccio, to try and reduce HIV transmission through contaminated needles. 

On World AIDS Day, December 1, 1993, ACT UP marched and demanding action about the AIDS crisis, stating that the red ribbon people wore, representing  sympathy was not enough. The march which was in support of the U.S. Bill 3310, and called for focused research on AIDS began in Public Square and ended at the Federal Building Plaza on E. 9th St. Also on the docket was a funeral for the red ribbon and a symbolic burning of red ribbon AIDS awareness postage stamps that the USPS had issued earlier that day. 

On World AIDS, December 2nd of the following year, ACT UP Cleveland sponsored a rally attended by over 60 people, and city officials, including Cleveland Police Chief Patrick Oliver, city Health Director Judith Zimomra and Lavonne Sheffield Turner, chief of staff for Mayor Michael R. White. The speaker at the rally, former physician Robert Willner, was noted for claiming to have injected himself with HIV positive blood, and not been infected. At the rally he argued that people were being deceived, HIV was a harmless virus, and AIDS was caused by bad nutrition, drugs, and bad medicine. 

The next year, on December 2, 1995, a protest organized by ACT UP Cleveland was held outside of City Hall. Protesters wearing masks carried a mannequin in a wire cage representative of Councilman Frank Jackson’s orders to quarantine those who tested positive for HIV. The group gathered to accuse local legislators of ignoring the AIDS crisis, and to express discontent for the manner in which funds dedicated to helping end the crisis were being used.   At that time AIDS was the ninth leading cause of death in Cleveland.

Grace Howard

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