San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project


Sit-in by Stop AIDS Now or Else (SANOE) on the Golden Gate Bridge (1989). Left to right: Jade Travers (died 1994), Chaya Gordon, Henry Bortman, unidentified, Ric Puglia, Mic Sweeny, Rebecca Hensler, unidentified. Photo: Copyright © Rick Gerharter.



The GLBT Historical Society has launched a new wide-scale oral history project to chronicle, preserve and share the history of ACT UP/San Francisco and other AIDS direct-action groups in the city. ACT UP/San Francisco was a highly visible and influential group of militant AIDS activists associated with a national network of independent organizations that shared the name AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

ACT UP/San Francisco emerged from earlier AIDS direct-action efforts in the city starting in 1984; it remained active into the mid-1990s. The project will document this wider context by also gathering oral histories on AIDS direct action by other local groups, including Enola Gay, the ARC/AIDS Vigil, AIDS Action Pledge, ACT UP/Golden Gate and Prevention Point.

In addition to creating historical documentation, the project aims to foster dialogue between ACT UP veterans and younger organizers active in the current upwelling of social justice organizing. The initiative will train people ages 18–29 to conduct oral histories and to actively shape project outcomes. Through round-table conversations, listening parties and other public events, the project will draw on the history of AIDS direct action in San Francisco to inform contemporary resistance.


Project Objectives

The ACT UP/San Francisco Oral History Project will be active through 2019. The outcomes will include the following:

  • Oral histories with at least 40 former members of ACT UP/San Francisco to be permanently archived and maintained by the GLBT Historical Society.
  • An exhibition at the GLBT History Museum incorporating high-quality documentary-style video portraits, photos, and other materials.
  • A multimedia Internet presence.
  • A series of culminating public events offering opportunities for dialogue and debate

Through oral history recordings, the project will document ACT UP/San Francisco’s legacy of protest and politics. In addition, the project will focus on the unique artistic and sexual cultures fostered through the constellation of San Francisco groups of which it was a part, including AIDS Action Pledge; Mobilization Against AIDS; Stop AIDS Now or Else (SANOE); Queer Nation/San Francisco; Boy With Arms Akimbo/Girl With Arms Akimbo; Bad Cop/No Donut; Diseased Pariah News; and Transgender Nation.



Project Director

The project director is Joey Plaster, an oral historian and doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale University. The recipient of the American Historical Society’s Allan Bérubé Prize for work in public history, he has designed projects that interpret oral histories in relation to neighborhood gentrification and conflict, engage queer homeless youth activists in documenting their community’s history, and analyze pre–gay liberation college life through interactive online platforms.


Interested in sharing your story or volunteering? Contact Joey Plaster at gro.y1516152273rotsi1516152273htblg1516152273@yeoj1516152273.


To take part in the conversation and get regular updates, join the Facebook group: ACT UP/San Francisco Oral History Project.

Project Staff: GLBT Historical Society

  • Executive Director: Terry Beswick
  • Museum Working Group Chair: Elisabeth Cornu
  • Managing Archivist: Joanna Black

Project Advisors

  • Gerard Koskovich, a public historian formerly active in ACT UP/San Francisco, Queer Nation/San Francisco and Bad Cop/No Donut.
  • Marc Stein, professor of history at San Francisco State University
  • Amy Sueyoshi, Associate Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University
  • Laura Wexler, professor of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Yale University





This project is made possible by support from California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the GLBT Historical Society.