AIDS Activism

When the AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s, many members of the public as well as the U.S. government failed to take the disease seriously or to respond to it quickly and effectively because of widespread prejudice against gay men. Activism by LGBTQ+ groups brought awareness to the disease as well as to the immense suffering that public and government ignorance had caused. Much of this activism took the form of organized protests, but activists also embraced artistic expression as a way to express their anger and frustration about the poor handling of the crisis. We see examples of this type of activism through artistic expression in David Matias’s poetry, as well as the AIDS Quilt Project.

In this poem, Matias acknowledges the effects that AIDS can have on mental health. With no way to afford treatment, and given the stigma surrounding the disease, many AIDS patients feel helpless. This poem offers both an example of AIDS activism and mental health awareness.

David Matias published two poems in the book Things Shaped in Passing. One of the book’s purposes was to highlight the many artists that suffered from AIDS. This book is one example of how activists used literature to bring awareness to the AIDS crisis.

In this poem, Matias describes living with AIDS as a “fifth season.” He expresses his feeling of separation from people living without AIDS, and brings awareness to the complex emotions  that AIDS patients experienced as they coped with the disease.

This is a photograph of AIDS memorial quilts laid on the lawn of the Washington Monument. Activists sewed these quilts to bring awareness to the number of people that have died from AIDS. Each quilt equals one life taken. David Matias talks about the symbolic importance of these quilts in many of his pieces, and explains how they play a part in AIDS activism.

This is a photograph of David Matias giving a guest lecture and reading his poetry at Harvard University. Matias used his literary and acting skills as a form of AIDS activism.