ACT UP Leeds: Full Interview
TRANSCRIPTACT UP Leeds
Interviewed by Ross Horsley
21 May 2019
RH: This is Ross Horsley recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project on the 21st of May 2019, and I’m here with the former members of ACT UP Leeds.
GC: I’m Gill Crawshaw, I am – how old am I? – 58. Pronouns: she and her. Mostly straight. Anything else we need to include in there? Living in Leeds.
JB: And where are you from?
GC: Originally? [Laughs] It doesn’t matter. Preston, but that doesn’t matter.
JB: I’m Jude Boyles, I’m straight. I’ve lived in Leeds for a long time, but I’m from the south of the country. That’s it.
JB: I’m 54 in a couple of weeks.
MW: I’m Mick, Mick Ward, I’m 61, I’m born and bred in Leeds, never lived anywhere else. I’m straight, but I’ve also dabbled… too long ago to even count as anything. And I’m a ‘him and he’.
JB: Oh yeah, pronouns: her.
RH: Thank you very much. Perhaps we could start by getting an overview of what ACT UP is and how it started?
GC: That’s a good idea.
MW: Should I start with that? Obviously, y’know, it started outside of the UK. It started in New York, and I think we –
JB: In 1987.
MW: Yeah. We became aware of it fairly early on, because we were all activists in different fields. And I suppose, for me, the thing just before that, which about ACT UP being a response, so obviously you have in America the AIDS crisis and all those deaths and things, I think in the UK it was slightly different in that level of illness and death wasn’t as stark, certainly early on in those days. What we were experiencing and seeing was a whole range of prejudice and discrimination and ignorance. So certainly, probably for all three of us, but I know certainly for me it came out of stuff that had been happening with Clause 28. So I’d been quite involved in campaigning against Clause 28, and we were directly affected by it because I worked for the Council. And then at the same time you were beginning to see all that ignorance and discrimination going on nationally and a couple of key incidents locally.
GC: Yeah, yeah, well you remember those, so you should –
MW: The two that really spring to mind were: there was a guy in North Leeds on Street Lane who was stabbed – survived – but, there was a rumour that he was gay and so first of all the ambulance crew turned up in full biohazard-type stuff, and you can sort of understand it there was that fear, but what was a bit more shocking was that the Council then turned up an hour later and blow-torched, well flame-throwers, the entire grass verges for 300 yards either way. And then the second incident was Gay Switchboard at the time used to meet at the university, and the porters refused to open the doors because they didn’t want to touch a key that had been touched by a gay man. So that was the sort of stuff that was going on.
JB: And I remember, personally, I was in Portsmouth at that time before I came up north, and I was working within the feminist movement, I was working within Women’s Aid, Crisis, stuff like that. And I remember doing the first ever Terence Higgins Trust HIV and AIDS counselling course, and a lot of people on the course were HIV positive and they had literally lost their friends, family, some were losing their jobs, and so when I came to Leeds there was this sense of urgency at that – at the beginning of that time when I came to Leeds, which was in 1990/1989, we can’t quite remember the date, but I think ACT UP started in Leeds in 1990. And I just remember if you were a, if you were a feminist or a social activist, you were just like, a social justice activist, you were just absolutely shocked and horrified by this huge switch into discriminating against these people, so and what it exposed in terms of oppression and who had power, and who was at risk, and who faced oppression, that was, that was what got me fired up.
GC: I mean, we should just say that ACT UP stands – is a bit of an odd acronym, if that’s the right word, but ACT UP stands for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. We don’t often use it in full.
MW: It was a very Americanism.
GC: Obviously it was about taking action, and it was always called a coalition, it was a coalition of anybody who wanted to take action. Not just, y’know, sit back and complain about it, but wanted to be active in some way, so ACT UP was always about, y’know, from its beginning in the States and its beginnings in Leeds, it was always about direct action. Taking direct action.
MW: And what in Leeds, why ACT UP was slightly different is, just prior to ACT UP Leeds AIDS Advice was established, and I was involved in that, and that was initially a group of gay men, particularly people involved in health and public health to start with. It was quite a small organisation, eventually it could a bit of funding from public health to have one worker, a guy called Ray Gaston. And I got involved about that stage, and that of course gradually grew. That was going a couple of years beforehand. So what you did have in Leeds was that, which was really focused on support and putting pressure on the NHS and the Council to develop better and better services. But what was missing was that political edge, and that’s how –
JB: We came about.
MW: ACT UP came about.
JB: And our focus was very much on discrimination, fighting discrimination and raising the visibility of people with HIV and AIDS.
MW: Following London, yeah.
GC: So we reckon that ACT UP Leeds formed in, probably, around April, I’m gonna guess, but it was in 1990 anyway, cos we yeah. There was quite a big article for World AIDS Day the year before, 1989, in Leeds Other Paper, as it was then, local alternative press. There was a big article about World AIDS Day and that featured ACT UP London and what they were doing, they had a big blockade of Westminster Bridge, and just again reinforcing that urgency and saying y’know this is now time to take action and do something. So there was that as well. Obviously, y’know the people who came together, however we came together, we knew about ACT UP in America. I think, y’know, we’d been very struck by those tactics that they had – not just direct action, but being really good with the media, always having press releases and making sure that actions were very visually interesting and arresting –
JB: And had key demands at the heart of them.
MW: You had to search hard to find that, cos this is pre-internet, so it’s about reading stuff in quite small-circulation magazines and looking out for stuff.
JB: So a really interesting point: if you look back over our history, and Gill was taking out some of our early paperwork, y’know we’d hand-type minutes and send them in the post to each other, it’s just a very, very different time, so how you got information was very, very different, and so going to Berlin and Amsterdam, which we’ll probably come back to later, it was quite startling for us really, and also really important.
GC: Which came a couple of years later. But we think we formed, there was a, oh we were saying, which meeting came first, there was a planning meeting of a few people – we do remember that a guy called Harvey, who was a well-known character in Leeds, who was a hairdresser, who had Snipperfield’s Circus and Cutting Camp and y’know was involved in campaigns.
JB: It was really just a gay community centre, wasn’t it?
GC: Yeah, and was a performer and all sorts of things, so a very well-known character. Remembering – Harvey’s sadly died now – remembering Harvey was involved right from the beginning, and y’know, we had a planning meeting, a public meeting that I think took place in the [Leeds] Civic Hall. I think we had quite a well-attended meeting, y’know I think there was 25 people or something there, which I think was quite good. I think – there was someone from ACT UP Edinburgh who’d just formed, who came down to speak, just to rally us up a bit. And yeah, and there was a lot of interest, we had enough, plenty of people for a group and then y’know we cracked on and started meeting. We had meetings every fortnight, often those were in the Civic Hall.
JB: They were mostly in the Civic Hall.
GC: But then if we were doing an action, it might be even more often than that that we’d be meeting. And we did a lot of actions didn’t we, I mean there were loads [laughs].
JB: We were really active. I guess the other thing to say about us is that we were really quite small, because we were committed to using direct action and that’s at the heart of ACT UP, it meant doing pieces of, well doing actions and demonstrations, and illegal activity, and so there’s gonna be a good proportion of activists who don’t want to do that. And so at any one time, I think probably at our largest since – I joined pretty soon after – the largest group meeting I can remember was about 8 or 9 people. We weren’t big. It didn’t mean that we didn’t – and we didn’t text either, to tell people about demonstrations, we’d telephone people up and tell them about demonstrations, or send out flyers, so when we had a demonstration like for World AIDS Day, we always did a ‘die-in’ at World AIDS Day, a ‘die-in’ is a very classic ACT UP form of demonstration and is very powerful usually. We always did one of those around World AIDS Day, and we would – they were always quite well-attended, people would come to the marches or they’d come to the ‘die-ins’, but the small actions where we did more illegal activity to try and raise awareness of a particular company’s discrimination or practices that we wanted to expose, then often there was just a group of 5 or 6 of us with balaclavas on just creeping around at night […]
GC: Even the stuff that was more confrontational I suppose, where y’know you were going to be shouting at chief executives of a company or where you were having to deal with the public as well and talk to the public, y’know, there was, for some people that was a bit too much. And sometimes people would come and just be bodies there, and not get involved in the discussion, and that was fine.
MW: Those sorts of numbers would usually be enough, but two things: one of which was the reason there were so many is that there was so much going on, cos they were nearly always reactive demos as to what could be done, y’know, whether that’s discriminatory question at the dental hospital, or the Youth Hostel Association banning people with AIDS. The other thing we did was, and this was learning from ACT UP internationally was they were always quite visual, like we would try and make it visual, and there were a couple of people involved in the group who had a bit of artistic background, y’know, like Gill. So we were always thinking what can we do that can have a bit of an impact and then try and link the impact to the nature. So the very early one, the Youth Hostel Association, just a simple idea to go in to the shop and climb into the sleeping bags. It just made a visual pun, a joke, it also made it funny when the police tried to arrest you and throw you out, cos you’re zipped up into sleeping bags.
JB: But that’s a key point isn’t it, that it was funny and challenging and angry and all of those things, so the visuals were arresting, but there was often an element of humour, like Gill made these big teeth when we did the demonstration at the dental hospital and we all stood behind a tooth and – it makes good copy.
MW: Yeah, and my funniest one was Armley Prison, so this was about the lack of condoms, in particular, but needles – so what we did for the demo, we had this idea of getting helium filled balloons and tying condoms to them and then float them over the prison and shoot them down with–
GC: Catapults! [Laughs]
MW: Which of course didn’t work. I mean, I don’t think they even reached the walls of the prison, it’d just float for a 2 second visual thing, it was quite funny, and that’s how you get a bit of coverage.
GC: I mean we had no money to do any of this, so I had to say some of our visual effects were quite shoddy [laughs]. Y’know, sometimes yeah –
JB: Very handmade.
GC: The banners were very homemade.
JB: It took us a long time to get a decent banner didn’t it? And sometimes we did get it wrong, I remember a particular one where we were in Dortmund Square and we wanted to do something around the blood, that the world has blood on its hands, which was particularly related to access to treatment. And there was all sorts around access to treatment, obviously the failure to release drug treatments to people living with HIV, but also the way in which women were treated around that, and the definition of AIDS – and so we had this plan to fill these globes –
GC: Inflatable globes.
JB: Inflatable globes with blood, well obviously with red paint [laughs].
MW: The blood would trickle out onto Dortmund Square.
JB: Cos there’s always blood, there’s lots of handprints with, there’s lots of blood on hands and that’s very visual, and we’d do a lot of that at the conferences, and we’d come back from the conference with the whole, let’s do more stuff with blood, and then they just [laughs] immediately would piece and just [bursting noise] and then just dripped, and then the rain washed it all away within seconds and we were all stood there going, ‘okay, let’s go’ [laughs].
MW: It was a 30 second demo, I think.
JB: It was the shortest demo we ever did.
GC: But I look back on them and think, these were artistic interventions [laughs] we were doing here, it wasn’t just a direct action, there was something quite artistic about it, and it’d be quite nice to –
MW: We should also tell you the failed demo of the women in – you’re not doing that one.
GC: Well we’ve got a record of that one, if that’s alright.
JB: And there were some pretty effective and positive demos, and we were learning and we were young. We were really young. […]
RH: What sort of reactions did you get from members of the public?
GC: Bemused [laughs].
JB: Yeah, I think a lot of the time it felt like people were quite confused. It was really at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. There was a group of very angry, very young activists doing, y’know on marches and doing demonstrations, and I think we got some good press though, we had – there was a couple of local journalists, Pete Lazenby is who I remember always, always covered our actions. So we did get coverage, we got both television and radio, and local newspaper coverage, so I think the public was bemused during the actions, but we did have support.
WM: And they did – we were saying they were often small, but they did grow and grow didn’t they?
JB: Yeah, every year.
WM: And you got the – the most significant campaign I was thinking of was the Hospital Fund one, then you had the building up the World AIDS Day ones, and the rubber glove ones, and –
GC: Well we should talk about some of those, and some of the successes, y’know, and I think –
JB: I think the rubber glove one was quite significant, cos it was an immediate response to something outrageous.
GC: So it started – it started with a World AIDS Day demo [JB: die-in] on the Headrow and we had a good crowd of people – a hundred, would you say?
JB: I think so, yeah.
MW: More than we expected.
GC: Yes, it was more than we expected, actually, much more than we’d had before coming along. This was in 1992, for World AIDS Day. So, and we must have done it on World AIDS Day itself, cos it was the evening, a weekday evening in town, so it was dark, it was December. And we did, y’know, a die-in, which is basically people lying on the floor on the Headrow, so we blocked the Headrow, blocked the traffic. There were a lot of people about – it might have been late-night shopping or something, if they did that then – I don’t know. There was quite a lot of people around. So we did this for a bit, and y’know, held up the traffic, lots of shouting, so everybody, y’know hopefully people realised what was going on and what it was about. And then, what we always tried to do with ACT UP was to have a sort of clean finish to an action, so we wouldn’t hang around forever and ever. Once we’d made a point and been effective, if it felt like, ‘Okay we’ve done enough’ hanging around won’t move things on –
JB: It was quite short, sometimes.
GC: Then yeah we’d move on. We’d be there for a good time, so we’d say, ‘Right okay everybody, we’re getting up now. Well done everybody’, y’know that’s all we were going to say. So we all got up and then just y’know gathered on Dortmund Square, and I was saying to Mick, ‘Somebody should just say that, thanks for coming, well done everybody, y’know really good, really good action’. I said, ‘Somebody need to say that, Mick’, and so Mick took –
MW: And I climbed onto the bench there and did the usual, ‘We’re ACT UP, this is what we stand for, this is what we believe in, blah blah blah, thank you,’ and that sort of thing; I sort of saw this kerfuffle behind me, glanced over, and there was this group of police, I saw this police con- officer point at me and say, ‘It’s him’, and then three policemen just rushed over and grabbed me and pulled me off into the back of a van, and then it didn’t set off, and I wasn’t too certain if I’d even been arrested or not or whether they were just gonna let me go, and there was a bit of banging and shouting, and then they clearly arrested someone else, Deke. I don’t know if he was in the same van or not, or he was kept separate.
JB: I thought there were three of you, but I can’t remember who the third one was. Was there just two?
MW: Anyway, then they drove us down to Millgarth and then when I got there, the first thing they said was, they asked me if I’d got AIDS. And so I refused to answer, ‘Have you got HIV’ [unclear] and I said I’m not answering that’. And they, all the police put on rubber gloves, and a couple of them put on masks, and they put rubber gloves on while they moved me around the police station and took my photos. They only kept me for a couple of hours and then they released me without charge, actually, and people were kind of still waiting.
JB: Outside, yeah.
MW: And that prompted us to have an action against the police, which was a really – that was quite a big action.
JB: It was huge!
MW: Which we organised in about a week
GC: Well, again, I would say it was in January, so y’know it was hot on the heels, it was really in January, with Christmas in between. Yeah, so then we had the rubber glove demo where we started at the Headrow, I think, given where we’d had the original demo, and then marched down to Millgarth, which was the police headquarters, not there anymore, it’s where John Lewis and that is now.
JB: We never used to ask for police permission to do marches in the way they do now, you’d just march. You rang everybody up, and people came, didn’t they? It was really big.
MW: A lot of people came from Manchester for this one –
JB: And Norwich.
MW: – cos the impact of that, but again the twist on it that made it different, we’d gone, spent the weeks beforehand going round every hardware shop in Leeds buying rubber gloves –
JB: Buying rubber gloves and –
MW: Huge, big marigolds, and we had some industrial ones –
JB: Industrial ones, those big ones yeah –
MW: They were a great visual –
JB: They were a great visual, yeah –
MW: And we used to hand them out to everybody on the demo: ‘Keep your gloves off our bodies’.
JB: That was the, that was the thing. And ACT UP was national, of course, so ACT UP London came to that, one person came from Norwich, ACT UP Manchester, and then there was us – Edinburgh didn’t last so long – so it wasn’t just local –
MW: We did have a very good party afterwards –
JB: A rubber party, where you had to come in rubber, yeah, it was very cool.
MW: In fact, we also had a pre – after the demo and before the party at our house, do you remember that club gave us their space, it was weird, cos at 5 I suppose they were not doing owt, and we had it between 5 in the evening and 9 at night.
JB: I don’t remember that.
MW: It’s that funny little club near the market, we went for drinks afterwards.
JB: One of the things that –
MW: An after drinks party, for a demo [laughter].
JB: Those were the days. So we arrived, when we arrived at the police station, and it was one of those moments when you get caught off guard a little bit, we were chanting: ‘Keep your gloves off our bodies’ and they went, ‘D’you want to come in and talk to us about your demands?’ and me and Gill went, ‘Oh okay’ [laughs] so we went in, and of course we had demands, you always had demands, you had your press release with your average three demands, and I can’t remember exactly what they were now, clearly not – to treat everybody equally, to not, that there’s no need to wear gloves when you’re handling anybody, and – I think they agreed to it, and we came out, and I remember we just went, ‘We did it!’ [laughter]. There was a great round of applause and much drinking, but what was significant about that particular action was the speed at which we organised. We were used to organising together really easily, really quickly, there was no fuss or concern, or y’know risk assessments or anything crazy like that, what do we need to do, we do it, then we ring everybody up, we arrive, there was a sort of a faith and a trust that we could pull off a really effective demo, and that anyone who spoke to the press could speak articulately and forcefully about the issues. It was, cos obviously we were non-hierarchical and we were a collective, we didn’t have money, we operated in – in quite a dynamic way, really, but there was a huge amount of trust between us that we would always cope with whatever situation that we were in.
MW: And it’s worth coming back to hierarchy but maybe after we’ve talked about the world conferences, cos that affected how you organised a bit more, we learnt a bit more. The other one worth talking through, cos it’s not a one-off, it’s the longest campaign, and eventually successful, was the Leeds Hospital Fund. So what triggered that, and I think, I dunno, but I think that maybe through the press that they contacted us, cos Vanessa Bridge was the reporter. So Leeds Hospital Fund are, there’s equivalents of that still going now, so it’s staff pay a small amount off your wages, and it’s to cover you for glasses and spectacles, or long-term off sick, and loads of companies in Leeds are members of it, but certainly the NHS organisations, certainly the Council, vast majority of Council staff were members and it just meant it was like a mini insurance policy on top of the NHS. And what had happened is, this young lad had died of an AIDS-related illness, and they refused to pay out for his funeral expenses, which he would’ve normally got. And I think they were classifying in the same way as they were classifying suicide –
GC: That’s right.
MW: So they refused to pay out. So that for us is like, y’know, the perfect storm, almost. So we just had a whole series of stuff against them, which ranged from pathetic things like the fax stuff, which was from the days of fax machines, we may need to explain these to the younger listener, but they used up so much ink that would we would do was we had like huge black spanners on white paper and we’d sneak into other offices, not our own offices – I’d do it a lot cos I worked in town – and then just fax them, and it’d just slowly go through and it’d just use all the ink up.
GC: At their end.
MW: And then one night we [laughter] thought we’d try and super-glue their locks up – we rocked up at half 11, it was too late, too drunk, trying to do that balaclava’d up, and giving up basically.
JB: I think we did super-glue it.
MW: We did, we –
GC: We went to the AGM, which was out at Tong, wasn’t it?
MW: It wasn’t originally, they moved it.
GC: Ah, to avoid us!
MW: They were meeting – they had offices near St Paul’s, and we were picketing it outside, and then they moved it, but somebody told us they moved to Tong, and so I used my contacts to get us a load of buses to come and pick up the demo and move the demo. And we had the demo there. And then we also occupied their offices –
JB: I was gonna say that was a very high profile one.
MW: That was one, I got arrested again, off that. That was just like for… it was funny, cos we went in the office, and this was actually a bit thing, cos quite often we’re going to big companies, like Texaco or these others, but of course the people in the shop are not the person, so even through we were occupying I remember that we were saying to the staff, ‘Don’t worry, we’re just here to make a fuss’, y’know you try to be calm to them, whilst trying to make it noisy. That was something I was very aware of. We did that. But I think – and this is about building alliances – so the alliances we were trying to make was with trade unions, with local politicians, and the Lord Mayor was the patron of the Hospital Fund and we managed to convince him to resign, and that’s a big one. And then the one that won this for us, actually, and this story’s about direct action, was we leaked some minutes of a meeting between the trade unions and the Council, I was acting the trade union, where the trade unions were suggesting that we stop automatically taking it off your wages, and people would have to join individually, which of course would have had loads of people opt out. We were nowhere near that being agreed, I don’t think the trade unions were – but it hinted that we weren’t going that way, the way the piece had been written –
JB: We had some power.
MW: And that was leaked to them, and at that point they changed the policy.
JB: And also the young man’s mum was also, came to demonstrations and was just an amazing woman, actually, incredibly proud of her son and outspoken, and I think that made a real difference actually. She was a good speaker and –
MW: Compared to us, all nutters you know, thing is having that ordinary mum, it that was really powerful.
JB: And she spoke really thoughtfully about the whole issue and how shocked it was – how shocked she was when it all happened.
GC: And I’m just thinking, y’know, some of those sustained campaigns, I mean one that was, maybe, oh I don’t know, it was a big issue, it was around insurance. Y’know, cos at that time y’know we started off with the Abbey Life in Leeds, Abbey Life Insurance, who had this questionnaire about whether you’d been to sub-Saharan Africa, had you had sex with anybody from there, had you had sex with men ever – this whole, y’know, discriminatory questionnaire really. And from that they would you know –
JB: Make judgements.
GC: Yeah, make all sorts of judgements. And also that, and various insurance companies were doing this and I think the guidance from the ABI, which was the Association of British Insurers, was not clear. It did allow companies to do that, certainly, certainly there was no ban from the national association to do that. And we’d had quite, had quite a long campaign both locally and nationally with the other ACT UP groups around insurance, yeah –
JB: Yeah that’s true, we shared [unclear].
GC: And managed, y’know sometimes we’d manage to get meetings with people who were quite high up in management.
JB: We went along to the ABI [Association of British Insurers] in London, didn’t we, yeah, yeah.
GC: We did. And that was, y’know, we had to know our stuff, cos y’know they would just have all the facts and figures at their hands. I can’t say, y’know – I think, I think things shifted, I don’t know if it was cos of ACT UP – ACT UP was part of it, I think, y’know things shifted in terms of those sorts of questions being asked by insurers for a number of reasons, for a number of pressures and just cos of I guess how society changed a bit as well. Yeah. That was quite a sustained campaign, and you can’t say, ‘okay yes we had this incredible victory here or here’, but we kept plugging away at it despite it being a, despite it being a tough one.
JB: And we had a big, a big demonstration at the DSS around cuts in health care, which we were just talking this morning before you came, about I had a quick look at ACT UP London’s website this morning, and their current campaign is around, all around cuts to sexual health services and it feels really weird several decades on that there’s not a lot of difference between what we’re campaigning about now in terms of cuts and what, what we’re campaigning about now compared to what we were working on years ago. It felt quite ironic and quite sad really, but it’s great that their still going, cos we all sort of came to an end, which we’ll talk about later, but we came to an end – all around the same sort of time, I think ACT UP London stayed for a little bit longer and they just re-set up again in 2012, which is fantastic to see actually, and they seem a really active, strong group. Cos it’s still an international movement.
MW: So I was going to say, maybe it’s worth talking about going international?
GC: Yes, definitely yeah.
MW: So, for me, I mean there’s – so what allowed us to do that was the World AIDS Conference, which obviously’s the big gathering of all the professionals around that. Always had a huge ACT UP presence, but it was always in America. And in ’92, was that Bush then, ’92 probably, they put a travel ban on people with HIV and AIDS, so that was boycotted so they moved to Amsterdam, and the following year in Berlin. Being in Amsterdam just made it possible for us to go. So we went along as this little ACT UP Leeds group – four of us, maybe five of us?
JB: There was some from Norwich, some from London –
GC: Manchester –
MW: Oh yeah, I meant just in terms of Leeds. And of course, there you’re suddenly going to an ACT UP meeting of 400 people, and that’s when they went… All that stuff now that people know cos there’s films and stuff, and you’re clicking your fingers. But the big thing that came out of that, cos had been very similar, and Jude was saying this earlier, is about going where the energy was, so what you wouldn’t get was a big debate and a vote, like ‘should we do this demo, or should we do that demo’ and a big argument over this and a [?]. If you had the energy to do it, you’d say I’m doing this and if people were interested they would join you [unclear] went on forever. You’d do all that, and then you’d have post meetings to plan it. But they were a mixture of real rent-a-mob, I mean we would do two or three demos a day for a week at the very start of it, plus massive education. And that goes back to the ACT UPs being very different, in different cities. So we were saying earlier, in Leeds – I think it was partly in response, y’know we have the NHS –
JB: Very good NHS.
MW: – We have the AIDS Advice. I think it’s also, in Leeds, it was the people largely came together in ACT UP – a mixture of gay men who were getting into politics for the first time, and people who were very political, who were getting into it around equality and discrimination. Whereas, particularly in the States a lot of the ACT UPs were very focused on treatment –
JB: Cos people were dying.
MW: And that stuff – people died. Y’know, as well as the demos I remember going to some of the actual AIDS Conference stuff, and it was just incredible. Some of the stuff I just didn’t understand, but famously the ACT UP people did a, like a major speech using his own blood, and taking, doing samples while he was doing it and [using all the screens], but of course everything else, like all those big conferences, were very much power driven. And there is a view nowadays that that ACT UP stuff actually changed the way things like that operate, way outside the AIDS area –
JB: I think it did –
GC: Yes, yes, about the patient advocacy and activism, yeah, yeah, yeah.
MW: Y’know, I’ve just said [?] rent-a-mob, and I remember one of the early ones, and as we arrived, we were a bit late and we called to this thing, I think it was a demonstration, I might have got the wrong drug company, Hoffman-La Roche or somebody, and our chant was ‘ddC and ddI for free’, and we were like chanting it and disrupting this thing, and one of us went over and went, [whispers] ‘What’s ddI?’ [laughter] [whispers] ‘I don’t know’ [laughter] You couldn’t look it up on your phone! It was bad, it was a bad thing!
JB: It was very – for me it made the whole thing feel, it was quite unsettling but it also made it feel even more urgent, cos people were really sick and you learnt as an activist just – I mean, you knew the detail of the reluctance of the drug companies to release drugs, and obviously what you know is, they were all – the people who were suffering from that sort of decision-making are people in the developing world, women, prostitutes, injecting drug users, oppressed people – lesbians and gay men, or gay men, so – at that moment when I remember seeing all those really, really ill people who couldn’t access drugs, it was very, it was very apparent that there was this huge, huge movement that we were part of that had, that felt ever-more urgent, I think that’s not very articulate, but it felt incredibly urgent, and I remember being quite shaken by that –
MW: It was just the level of skill and knowledge –
JB: They were scientists, almost –
MW: And these are the brightest of the bright people, who were activists, not something that different, they become activists but their friends were dying, they were possibly gonna die, and then they brought that skill – I remember my own contribution was certainly, well I’ll say it now – so one of the things they did for Berlin, they did this massive manifesto, so they had this idea that – so how they built the nuclear bomb was by bringing all the minds from every different thing together, the Manhattan Project, so they’d written a paper that was basically a call for a Manhattan Project and how that would work, but it was a thousand pages long, well they couldn’t afford to get it bound, they could just get it printed, so what they got was 60 of us to go to this room and we all, the individual ones were done, so a thousand copies of page 1, a thousand copies of page 2, and so on, all the way round this room, and we spent 3 hours just walking around the room picking up pages until you had a pile, until you had a full version – 3 hours just walking round the room doing that cos they couldn’t afford to do it. But of course there were these geniuses who’d written it also joining in and people’s skill and knowledge.
GC: What was great as well was the support that we got, cos there we were with an international group, y’know and people could put forward their own ideas for actions and so we did that as well. Yeah, people’d come and support those. Cos that’s where, is that where we first did –
JB: The Virginia Bottomley one?
GC: The Virginia Bottomley?
JB: I thought that was Berlin.
MW: So there were two, you were right. So the first one we did was a pathetic one in Manchester, outside the station, when she was speaking somewhere near it, but that’s where we practiced it, but the World AIDS Conference was the really good one, so –
JB: Was it Berlin?
GC: Yes, it was Berlin.
MW: Virginia Bottomley was the Health Minister. D’you want to say the action?
GC: Well, somebody had discovered that an anagram of Virginia Bottomley, an anagram of her name was ‘I’m an evil Tory bigot’ [laughter].
JB: It’s just genius!
GC: How fortunate is that? So I mean the sort of the action bit of – the action was having enough people for each of those letters, everybody having a letter, y’know lined up with Virginia Bottomley written, each holding a letter, and we had to choreograph it, we had to practice it a few times –
MW: That’s the beauty of it, doing the punchline first. What was nice, at the demo it was a really calm demo, so she was just about to start to speak, we stand up, walk in front of her, with these signs that just says ‘Virginia Bottomley’, so no one knows what to, I mean this was pre-international terrorism, so you could get on stage relatively easily –
JB: Yeah, we could.
MW: And you could do Virginia Bottomley, and it was this sort of pause, silence, and then this beautiful choreographed movement we all took two steps back, three to the left – we all knew what our space was, it was – we’d practiced and practiced and practiced so it would look beautiful, and then suddenly it forms again and it says ‘I’m an evil Tory bigot’ –
MW: And the entire audience just collapses into laughter, we walk off, and then she has to try and do her speech.
JB: Brilliant, just brilliant. But we did, as Gill said, we got a lot of support from international colleagues for all our actions that were about those sorts of things, and of course we were completely present for all the treatment-based stuff and the women’s-based stuff, but yeah it did shake us a little bit – it shook me I think. And I went into the next one a lot, a lot more aware of what to expect and what our roles and responsibilities would be in that.
MW: The demos and different things, I mean I remember two things from Berlin. So one was the demonstration with sex workers, y’know: ‘Keep your laws off our bodies’, and joining those on the demonstration and how they were being treated in Berlin. And I also remember being on another demo and going round, and the chant was, to the hi-energy sort of thingy: ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, there’s no cure!’ [laughter]. People with HIV chanting, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, there’s no cure!’
JB: Sometimes they were less good […] I think as Mick said, they did change what happened at the International AIDS Conference cos at the first, the first one in Amsterdam, from my view, we were outside campaigning and then all the drug companies went in and all the people in government working organisations, and we were outside, very much criticising and attacking and challenging, in various different ways. Also, a group of incredibly – as we were saying before – really thoughtful people who knew their stuff. The next year, we had that same demonstration as the conference opened – everyone did the demonstration, and then some people went in, cos they had passes, cos they were speaking and involved. And then there was this huge eruption of, ‘Hang on a sec, we stand outside and demonstrate, we don’t go in with them!’ I mean, it was a really interesting – it was the first time it was like, we are them, sometimes. And that was like an interesting –
MW: Well I remember, cos we all got given passes at that point, passes of protest. The deal was, cos it was the World AIDS Conference, it cost hundreds of pounds to go in, but we got passes, and I remember this slightly embarrassing bit, it was, there were two embarrassments: so one of them, they’d argued it that we could all get passes, but the assumption was it was because everybody was HIV positive, and we weren’t, and very few people in our bits of [?] were, I remember saying that to someone and them saying, ‘oh it doesn’t matter’, and then going in I thought, and it was you had to make a donation, so I’m thinking how much should I put in, cos it’s about a hundred quid and you’re putting a tenner in it, everyone’s putting it like literally five cents and things like that, alright then. But yeah –
JB: And then after that, the conference – the actual organisation of the conference changed, people living with AIDS had a massive part of the organisation and that just kept on changing until the current sort of [unclear] when the sort of activist were an integral part of the makeup and are in every single conversation that happens at that conference, so – I like to think that we were part of that, internationally, as an organisation.
MW: And is there anything else before we discuss the end?
GC: I don’t know… I mean there was loads of other actions, but we don’t need to mention them all.
JB: Any questions?
RH: Can you give me an idea of the sorts of people who joined the group in Leeds?
JB: We were quite small, so it was a mix –
GC: A mixed group, yeah.
JB: And if you look back, we were all white, and I think now we would think about that really differently and be more active around that. It was just a mixture of lesbians and gay men and straight allies. All of us were committed social justice activists and some worked within the HIV service –
MW: It was about a third of each, wasn’t it actually?
MW: As Jude says, there was only really a core 12, I think, if that.
GC: Yeah, but we’re looking at, I can’t remember the names, you know there was that lovely lesbian couple and their gorgeous children who used to come regularly –
JB: Came to every demo didn’t they? I bet they’re cool women now –
GC: Yeah, Andrea who’s still around in Leeds –
MW: There were people on the edges, who were sort of half in and out, Carl, for example. He was our legal advisor, quite often he was involved in the –
GC: I mean, half of those involved in the beginning and then didn’t stay –
MW: And Jason.
JB: Jason’s dead now.
GC: Jason did, yeah.
JB: So, and then we were half men, half women, I think, at that time we were.
GC: There was a lot of women weren’t there?
JB: Yeah there was, but I think you were the only woman at the start though, before I came along.
GC: Possibly, possibly.
JB: So, yeah, but small.
RH: Were you a harmonious group, did you get on well?
MW: Yeah, we did, I think.
JB: We did actually.
MW: And it goes back to the way you organise stuff. Like, I remember getting a bit narked with a couple of people in ACT UP London, that one –
GC: Oh yeah.
JB: Oh god! The national meetings!
MW: So we had national meetings that were a bit – and that, and I remember being approached by people in Norwich to see if I could do something to sort out a couple of people in London, which is really – this is going to sound really Machiavellian, probably not the most important bit, y’know, just trying to use meeting skills a bit more and how you should be with people and not being by yourself. But in Leeds I don’t remember any problems –
GC: Oh no, we were good. We always got on really well, y’know –
MW: If anyone had any issues, it didn’t happen but –
GC: And yeah, and some people came and went, and some people obviously came and maybe didn’t think it was quite for them and then they’d float off, y’know, and that was fine. I remember sometimes, y’know, cos sometimes – how old were we then, I don’t know –
JB: Early 20s I think it was –
GC: – late 20s or something, y’know and sometimes a couple of older people’d come along, y’know and that might work and it might not, just –
MW: And I think, cos you had AIDS Advice as well, so if you think about the splits, that started initially in the States, say between San Francisco and Golden Gate, and what happened in New York, a lot of that argument was about demos vs treatment, y’know, where you put all your time and energy, whereas I think in Leeds if you wanted to focus more on providing support, rather than treatment, there were alternatives to do that, you could do that through AIDS Advice and MESMAC just grew and grew. Y’know, you have to remember originally there was AIDS Advice and you had a MESMAC worker and y’know just to do that, and they started all that initial community development focus and so people could get involved in community development or they could get involved in more direct supporting individuals who were living with AIDS, or get more involved in working with the NHS, but not in a confrontational way, more in a nudging way. Whereas we had that sort of narrow – we were looking for discrimination and things like that that we were gonna tackle –
JB: And visibility
MW: So that kept us quite focused, I think.
JB: And I think if you’re doing direct action together, there has to be a level of trust really. And a lot of us – well I certainly became friends with you two at that point, cos I joined, we weren’t, I didn’t know you at that point cos we’d just moved to Leeds, and I think everyone was quite close. But people would come and go.
MW: And I think, and I’m about to link to the end of the whole thing – you were saying earlier about knowing when to end, I mean that’s a bit lesson I take with me now. One of the things that really winds me up nowadays when I go on demos and other things, they don’t know how to end it, cos it’s almost like, if you stay longer to show that you’re more committed, or – you reach a point where your point’s made, it’s not going to make any more difference now, you’re not gonna get any more press, you’re not gonna get any more positive response. We were quite good at saying ‘bum bum bumf’, whereas I know in other places they weren’t quite as strong as that.
JB: I guess on a lot of other demos people are there because they need to be around likeminded people, they want to feel that they’re part of something that’s resisting whatever they’re campaigning or demonstrating against. But I think we were so urgent, so current, and always doing stuff that, you know we were in and out really quickly, and I really liked that about the way that we worked. And I can’t remember how we chose to end that, actually, I don’t remember at what point we decided –
GC: No, well I’m guessing – probably, what do you think our last act would’ve been the DSS one? That’s certainly a late one –
JB: When we brought it to a standstill? Ironically. What were we campaigning about?
GC: Yeah, well we met up with DAN, didn’t we – Disabled People’s Direct Action Network – cos it was about cuts to benefits, which affected disabled people, affected people with HIV. So, I’m thinking that might’ve been the last action –
JB: I think it was –
GC: We went to the DSS –
MW: There was no falling out. I think there was just – the evilness that we were often reacting against was drifting away. You weren’t hearing those stories. AIDS Advice and MESMAC were growing and growing, so you had that as an alternative if you wanted to get involved. We just had a lack of action, I think. Then you start to get to where you think, ‘Nah, it’s probably not worth it’.
GC: Cos that’s all, yes, cos that’s the thing about direct action, isn’t it – it’s got to be clear what you’re doing. It’s got to be clear to, y’know, the public and bystanders that this is why you’re doing this thing. And so some, y’know, some injustices don’t lend themselves very well to direct actions, actually, y’know you’ve got to take other approaches to them.
JB: And I think it’s interesting that at that time, I think ACT UP Norwich folded at a similar time, and ACT UP Manchester folded a similar time, then London went, and I think what’s really interesting about what’s happening now in society in terms of, of the rise of the right, and what we’re seeing in the UK – that ACT UP are really, really strong again in London and have got a lot, those actions have a place again. But I think that there was a time where it wasn’t felt like any of us –
MW: Yeah, I think what started with London was that really specific thing, cos of PrEP and PEP. Whereas I don’t think there had been such a big change in drug treatment for a few years, whereas suddenly there was a bit of a silver bullet and the government wasn’t reacting well and that really pushed that – but I think once they formed they’ve started to spot the cuts, and they’ve also done quite a bit of stuff on migrant health, which y’know looking back is something that we should’ve had a bit more focus on.
JB: Yeah, that would’ve been a reason to set up again. People seeking asylum, refugees’ access to health care [agreement].
GC: For us as individuals, is that what you’re suggesting? We could do it again. I mean for us as individuals we were all involved in other campaigns and activism –
MW: I took that learning to DAN, the direct action group there –
GC: Yeah, definitely.
MW: So suddenly then it was the same people and chaining yourselves to buses, and all that stuff. So there was quite a bit of learning from ACT UP and being organised.
GC: Oh definitely.
MW: It’s affected my day-to-day work, like how you have meetings and all that stuff, I think. It was quite a time, I think.
JB: Yeah, it was. It was an incredibly dynamic time, but it actually wasn’t that long probably, it was 6 years, maybe?
GC: Yeah, at the most, 5 or 6.
MW: If that. I think 2 or 3 of those were key ones.
GC: ’90 to ’93, maybe? ’94? Anyway.
JB: But then you actually used to live and breathe it, that’s what you did, y’know, the poll tax, whatever is was you would – that’s what you did. And we, I mean I’m still an activist now, still involved in stuff but I didn’t, I don’t live and breathe it, as I did then [agreement], which is quite sad, because y’know I’m still a trade unionist and all those things and I work in a, in an organisation that has a really clear campaign around refugees, but you lived and breathed it. There was a meeting, there was a demo most weekends, it was just, there was so much to be fucking angry about – and of course there is still so much to be angry about.
RH: How were you perceived by LGBT communities at the time?
JB: That’s a good question.
MW: I think that, I mean, yeah – I mean, like I say, y’know we were a small group and there was enough people, who were LGBT, and there were other people who were involved in AIDS Advice. I think sometimes people might’ve thought we were a bit on the fringe, but I think people liked the fact there was somebody out there, doing that stuff for them, which is why, y’know you would get a few more people at demos –
JB: …really could in terms of people.
MW: So the World AIDS Day demo, the one where I got arrested, I also remember that one of the annoying things about that, I was late for the AGM of Leeds AIDS Advice, at which I was being given the chair for Leeds AIDS Advice, which was quite weird that I was doing that as a straight man or you know it was not directed by someone with HIV and AIDS, but I think that was partly in response that they knew we were prepared to put ourselves out there, and we were all in positions that you could do that a bit, take a risk –
JB: The community came out, y’know, for demos in really big numbers.
MW: And, it’s hard to say, I mean the other thing, we used to go, I was forgetting this – this is where I can’t remember, which we sometimes drift, for me there was a bit of a blur sometimes with AIDS Advice and ACT UP… So we used to do stalls at clubs, didn’t we?
JB: Oh with needles and condoms and information about safe sex and stuff!
MW: Yeah. Now, to be honest, another reason we used to do stalls was so that we didn’t have to queue, cos these were the days when y’know a lot of the clubs you’d go to you’d have to bloody queue for ages – not only didn’t you have to queue, we’d get a seat! So we would ring up a club, y’know –
JB: Including the Jimmy Somerville concert we managed to get into as well! [Laughs]
MW: I’d just say, ‘We’re ACT UP Leeds, we’ve come to do a safe sex and information stall’, y’know, and because it was beginning to [?] and they were trying to look good we would be given a table and some seats and free tickets, and then we’d go in, set up a stall we’d mostly taken from AIDS Advice and dozens of condoms, people liked the idea of giving out condoms, it’s really weird, it was a radical thing to give out a condom, y’know I think nowadays it wouldn’t have much of an impact, it was, ‘Ooo, you’ve got condoms?’ And we’d do that for half an hour and then just go clubbing, I think. [laughter] I forget, do you remember, we’d just saunter in with our little bags of stuff, just past these queues and going, ‘We’re ACT UP!’ and set up this stall [laughter].
JB: ‘Fight back, fight AIDS!’
MW: Well that included, you know a few gigs –
GC: Oh gigs as well!
JB: Jimmy Somerville, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Michael Franti wore an ACT UP Leeds t-shirt. Yeah, you could see why we were going there, can’t you? [laughter]. I’m not so proud of that [laughter]. I wonder if we can say that?
GC: It was part of raising awareness.
JB: It was, yeah!
RH: Of the things that you were fighting for at the time, some of them have obviously changed and got better, are there any that really haven’t and you still think are a big problem?
MW: Crikey. I’m trying to think of the narrowness of it.
JB: I think, I mean we’re not in, sorry, speaking for myself I’m not in the HIV world anymore. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t have friends who are HIV positive, and I do, and they are in the HIV world, and they have a language and an understanding about what’s happening in the developing world as well as here, way, way above what I have. And I’m often reminded of that when I see [name] and these two really good friends who work in the sort of global health field. They – they are so up to date with what’s happening, passionate about access to, to treatment across the world. And I don’t think as individuals we’re particularly up to date with that now. I think the context has changed in terms of people’s attitudes towards people living with HIV and AIDS, and I think things are changing for good in some areas, and it’s also a horrendous time in history, in terms of the rise of the Far Right, and what’s happening at the moment, so I think it – I think that there will always be things to by active about, and I think health care and the loss of the NHS is something that perhaps if we were in ACT UP we would be having a similar focus to London right now, but, yeah, I think –
MW: Yeah, the level of discrimination against LGB, and I’m not including the T cos trans wasn’t really an issue when we were around, it was rarely talked about, y’know so that was, that discrimination came straight out of Clause 28 and it was the law to discriminate, y’know this was blatant stuff, and y’know in the wider context talk, the talk about y’know the Director of Social Services writing to me as a Social Services manager saying they didn’t want professed homosexuals giving out advice and information on sexuality, which is just incredible – in writing, to me. So you don’t get that anymore, I think the world has moved on, generally, we all know that it’s still quite a challenge for many people, and there’s challenges for trans folk –
JB: And in particular countries it’s a challenge for many people.
MW: I think that’s what, those two things are incredibly interlinked, in the same way that people now try and link all the Brexit stuff with the Islamophobic type things, it’s just you have less about that as an issue and nowadays I think there’s fights around other areas.
RH: Did you actively recruit members to the group?
MW: Only through word of mouth and things. I mean Leeds Other Paper was really important, having said there’s no internet or anything, and y’know a lot of it was done by phone, but that’s where we would put adverts for meetings and notice for demos, if we could, and we would encourage people, but –
GC: And y’know, and obviously we had those links with Leeds AIDS Advice and we’re, just looking back, we had just a social that we invited anybody, with AIDS Advice, which was a bit of a get to know you session for people. So, y’know, maybe it would happen that way. I think, we were saying though, I mean, we were just so focused and busy with action, and because of the nature of the group, really, and because of the type, I dunno, it’s not like we did outreach, really, apart from getting into clubs, sort of thing, but [laughter] yeah we didn’t really have – we were all working, so all our organising went on at evenings and weekends, so that would y’know affect who you could meet with and who you couldn’t sometimes, apart from obviously taking days off for actions and things. But yeah, we were just focused on doing the actions.
MW: It was more about recruiting people to an action. So we’d want people to come to the actions, but we didn’t need people to do the organising either. Maybe people with a bit more skills in some areas it would’ve been helpful, but we had enough. But as Jude was saying earlier, it was really on the cheap, this is like hand duplication, doing some extra photocopying at work, homemade banners, y’know, the cheapest t-shirts – the first time we met Jude, you get tell it was Jude’s house because of the paint on the pavement outside from where we’d made the banner.
JB: [Laughs] It was really bad, on an old sheet, on an old blood-stained sheet.
MW: Yeah, so a bit on the cheap. So while, yeah, we’d try and get more and more people, y’know we got through to here about World AIDS demo towards the end, and there was hundreds of people marching down the middle of the Headrow, that’s quite a thing, which eventually became, like, the vigil. I’m not against the vigil, but we always wanted a demo not a vigil, so as Jude was saying earlier, we didn’t ask police permission, we would just go down the Headrow and do our route, and all of that negotiating where we’re going, we would just spill over, and if it’d kicked off a bit and more publicity we could live with that –
JB: But it became an annual thing.
MW: Eventually that became the annual vigil that’s still going on, and that’s fine, but. The vigil’s fine, and you do need those moments of remembering people who’ve died and so ours was much more about the anger, y’know the old ACT UP sign, ‘Silence = Death’. So yes, you might have a vigil, but you also need the anger, the public face of it.
RH: I notice you brought some badges with you. Would you describe a couple of those for us?
GC: This is, yeah, well, a collection of ACT UP badges from, actually around the world. So, ACT UP – we used the same sort of graphic style that ACT UP New York had developed, I can’t remember what they called, was it Grand Fury, the design collective that did ACT UP visuals, y’know, really, really [JB: Amazing] yeah, great graphic images and y’know the logo for ACT UP was this lovely, neat logo that was black – yeah, so the ACT UP logo’s sort of, yeah, these very clear capital letters, black on white, but then for each of the local ACT UP groups, you would have below that, y’know ‘ACT UP Leeds’, below that reversed, so it would be white on black, so it always looked really good, so…
MW: And then you’ve got the classic slogan, and as Jude at the very first of the interview says, you can’t say ACT UP without going:
JB: Fight back, fight AIDS! [Laughter]
MW: We had a lot of call and responses, didn’t we, there was: ‘ACT UUUUUUP!’
JB: ‘FIGHT BACK, FIGHT AIDS!’
MW: ‘People with AIDS, under attack, what do we do?’
JB/GC: ‘ACT UP! FIGHT BACK!’
JB: It’s just there [laughter].
MW: So ‘ACT UP Fight Back’, those are good one, and then these three pink ones are Leeds ones that we did –
JB: They’re less good [laughter].
MW: I love ’em! They come from a punk sensibility, which I think is another link, because I think we were all Post-Punk-ish –
JB: Not me.
MW: So these are pink ones that are very small, like, if you’re of that age you remember those stiff badges, so ‘Fuck safe, ACT UP’, ‘Dance Proud, ACT UP’, ‘Shoot Clean, ACT UP’ and we had t-shirts with ‘Fuck Safe, Dance Proud, Shoot Clean’ didn’t we, which was quite a wild one to wear at work occasionally [laughter]
JB: I remember we got these, we got the ACT UP Leeds put on a t-shirt and again we were poor we didn’t have any money for the t-shirts, so we managed to find a t-shirt company who would print them really, really cheaply and when they arrived they were all absolutely massive, weren’t they, they were just like… and that’s my sort of memory of so many demonstrations –
MW: I wish I had an ACT UP Leeds t-shirt.
JB: – all these t-shirts down to our knees.
GC: I think they fell apart.
MW: They did fell apart. I think even eventually they became bed t-shirts, and then they’ve eventually gone from that. I mean, we have specifics like, ‘Say It, Women Get AIDS’, of course the whole AIDS and women thing was a big campaigning area.
JB: There was a really good badge that I haven’t got any more, which was ‘Women don’t die –’, what was it? ‘Women don’t die of AIDS’?
MW: ‘Women don’t get AIDS, they just die of it’.
JB: ‘They just die of it’, which was about the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] campaign.
GC: So, ACT UP Golden Gate, ACT UP –
MW: That was another one, that was American. ‘Earn your attitude’.
GC: That’s a good phrase one, that phrase, ‘Earn your attitude’.
MW: And that was particularly, y’know, for those people who were just on the edges, who wouldn’t do enough work, it was – ‘Commit!’ [laughter] Oh yeah, there’s another one here, isn’t there, it’s another American: ‘Turn fear, anger, grief into action’. So… what’s this hairy one?
JB: I didn’t like those as much. That was from Norwich, ACT UP Norwich, yeah. I think that was the thing that was really important, it was the belief that direct action in the liberation of peoples work. That’s what we know, when you look back over movements, that’s what works, and so that was one of the things that brought me so easily to it.
MW: Oh, ACT UP San Francisco.
JB: Oo. That’s got a nasty star, that’s not as –
MW: Yeah, I don’t like that one as much. No wonder them and Golden Gate fell out.
RH: Did you really feel part of that global community that’s…?
MW: Yeah, so we, early on –
JB: After Amsterdam, I think –
MW: – did we go to America before the World AIDS Conference?
GC: Erm, I can’t remember. Maybe, possibly. Actually, yes.
MW: So me and Gill, we wrote to the ACT UPs in New York, San Francisco and Houston, and said we’re activists from Leeds, we’re coming on holiday, it would be good to meet up some point. All three wrote back, ‘come and stay’, and we just had, the best holiday ever, but yeah you’re suddenly seeing it in a different thing. So ACT UP New York, we went to an ACT UP New York meeting with hundreds of people, Larry Kramer was there, it was just, it was when it was all going horribly wrong, in that thing in that difficult meeting. We went to San Francisco and met this woman, and I became really good friends of hers, but my bit there and remember it’s a different world, the first night we arrived there was a note, she wasn’t in, the door was open, and she just left a note, ‘let yourself in’, and going, ‘we’re at a fundraiser, it’s here if you want to come along, if you’re not too tired’. Now our fundraiser would’ve consisted if we were lucky about maybe a disco and a shitty raffle, and so we went to this fundraiser, and I remember we walked in and we were given a free drink, and then as we were sitting, getting in, there was a waiter going past with this plate of food, and he went and offered it to the person next to him, and said, ‘Calamari, sir?’ And this guy went, ‘Is it free range?’ [laughter]. And he went, ‘Of course’. And then they had this silent auction, and you walked around and put stuff on, and a few y’know books and things, the star thing was this leather jacket from one of the actresses who’d died recently, and y’know some nice bits of jewellery and stuff. And I remember thinking, ‘That’s quite a nice necklace, about $20’ and somebody had already put down about $800 or something!
JB: They had money, didn’t they?
MW: And it was just like, oh yeah, this is a different world.
JB: But I think we did feel much more part of the global ACT UP organisation after the Amsterdam, I certainly did.
GC: Definitely, definitely.
MW: People liked our energy I think, people were really, we didn’t have that expertise –
JB: Around treatment.
MW: - and we had a lot of energy and passion for it. And different fights, and some successes. And we were always up to doing the work.
JB: Yeah, we worked really hard when we were there, every evening, every day. And then we did a little newsletter, didn’t we, just to keep us all [up-to-speed?] as we were at the conference, handwritten. Yeah. So I think we did in the end, but I don’t think I did before Amsterdam. I knew about it, but didn’t feel it.
MW: Well it’s funny how it goes with you because some of the stuff that I know now, I can’t have known that, because I wouldn’t have known how I would’ve found out about it, y’know cos nowadays there’s the films and stuff you can watch, and y’know those films are like the last four or five years ago and have managed to find old films, but they weren’t available, they’d be y’know on somebody’s handheld camera somewhere that they’ve pulled together, so they’re just done through those stories. And presumably reading stuff in the Pink Paper would’ve been where we found out about some of the –
JB: They were always doing stuff in the Pink Paper.
MW: And then you’d have had to – I don’t know how you found out about international stuff. Just reading bits in there.
JB: Well there used to be like treatment magazines –
GC: Well I was gonna say, there was the treatment newsletter, yeah –
JB: We used to get the Treatment magazine, and it was just, y’know, because there was TAG split off, Treatment Action Group split off – amicably I think, in the end – from ACT UP and a lot of the activists who had become by then complete experts on and had quite high profile did work specifically around drug trials and access to treatment and things, and they produced this incredibly sophisticated Treatment magazine, which would be sent out, post. We used to get that through the door.
GC: We used to get that, yeah.
JB: So yeah, you know. For me, that was, I always used to try and read that, it was a different world.
RH: Is there anything else on your list that you’ve not mentioned that you intended to talk about?
MW: What was that?
GC: Anything else on the list?
JB: I can’t think of anything.
MW: No. […] See this are like, this is how you used to get information, things like that – attend the International Conference on AIDS and you photocopied bits of paper that are posted out, y’know, there’s our, our newsletter –
JB: That’s our newsletter from the Conference.
MW: And you’re literally doing that in the evening on a typewriter and then just photocopying it, and printing it, yes.
JB: And Gill and I were just looking at an article that Gill had cut out from Leeds Other Paper and Northern Star, do is say? And I’ve just got my home phone number at the bottom of the thing, just to ring up, y’know, 0113 [laughs] it’s my home phone number, which – but that, people just rang up.
RH: So is that the name of the newsletter, Fight Back?
GC: Fight Back, yeah, ACT UP Newsletter.
MW: ACT UP Newsletter, so these were done specifically for the conference so they’d be typed up that evening, for y’know demo against –
JB: People worked really hard, didn’t they?
MW: And yes, so this is one day, okay. So Wednesday, 11 o’clock, attack on the booth of Hoffman-La Roche, meet at 10:30 –
JB: That’s the trashy booth of the drug company.
MW: 12:30 attack on AFLS, the French prevention agency, zap booth 44 in Hall 1, meet at 12:15. 1 o’clock, attack on the Aster booth, meet 12:45 ACT UP office.
JB: We just ran from one to another.
MW: 8:30 women’s action, ICC plenary, start at 8. 10 o’clock, ACT UP general intervention. This is PM, we’re now on to. 10pm general international meeting, Aster building –
JB: Debrief at –
MW: – don’t worry it only clashes with the concert, it’s probably last chance to plan, y’know – then it just goes again, next day, y’know: UK action on funding cuts, and that’s the one where we burnt all the money –
JB: Yeah, which was really stunning, wasn’t it, it’s a lovely visual.
MW: So we photocopied thousands and thousands –
JB: We’ve still got the money, let me show you the money –
MW: - of ten pound notes and then marched around the concert hall, throwing this money around, and then we started doing that with it didn’t we, and then ended with a brazier, burning the money and giant cheques –
JB: I’m just gonna show you this cos it’s funny –
MW: I mean, and everybody joined in on it –
JB: Handwritten: ‘What, no condoms?’ I mean [laughs] it’s just so [laugh] and Gill and I were just, oh look we changed the date of the last one [laughs] it’s just yeah…
MW: …been reading out this stuff, just seen this: 12 o’clock, propose removal of information from the AIDS Information Switzerland booth; 2:30, zapping of the German health minister who allowed infected blood into [IV packs?]; 8 o’clock, meeting. Friday: US embassy, sometime in the morning, to be confirmed, action on Guantanamo. 10 o’clock, ACT UP post-conference party. That was a good party! [Laughter]
JB: But you can see we worked really hard, and sometimes we arrived at a demo not quite sure, there’s the odd one where we arrived and we hadn’t, we’d just seen it there, we knew we had to be there, there’d be a lot of people there, but there was always people who were well-informed, that was the thing, you could trust the level of information and the thinking about it.
MW: Well, there you go, there’s us. Jude, ACT UP Leeds, and we’re all there – ACT UP with attitude, ACT UP report on the International AIDS Conference in Berlin. And there’s us with our demo, ‘Retaliate First’ that was one of our slogans.
JB: That was one of the better banners.
RH: What’s that in? That page?
MW: This one? That would be our own newsletter, won’t it?
JB: No, that’s Leeds Other Paper, that’s an article that –
MW: Oh is it, that’s a page from Leeds Other Paper, then, y’know a press release. We’ve got a PO Box number in that.
JB: That was when we were based at AIDS Advice for post. Cos it also was a time where, not us directly, but people who were living with HIV and AIDS were having a horrendous time, so we did have a Box number at the beginning, but then we – we started, relaxed in terms of –
MW: Ah there the ad is, oh god, I didn’t know we still had one!
JB: She’s got one each side, it’s so great.
MW: Well there you go, with a little sign, yes, just printing them off and photocopying them –
JB: And then we set them alight –
MW: I think I worked in an office with a photocopier.
RH: Did you keep all this with a sort of view to archiving and –?
MW: D’you know, Gill’s a good scrapbook person, aren’t you? So I think I’m just good at keeping things.
GC: Well yeah, but we say we’ve got rid of so much, didn’t we? We’ve got rid of so much, I think when we moved, I think about 20 years ago, we moved house and thought y’know i haven’t looked at this for so long.
JB: I actually did archive mine cos I was just, cos I had all the minutes and I was clearing out my attic and so I had all the minutes of Justice For Women, all the minutes of ACT UP, every press release, loads of pictures, so I put them all in these and I sent them to the archive in London, Lesbian and Gay Archive in London, so they’re all there. So, I’ve got nothing now. And I sent all the feminist stuff to the feminist archive, so I’m really glad I did that actually cos I would’ve – there is loads of stuff in there, but it does mean I’ve got very little now. It’s nice to see these today.
MW: Reading this reminds me of something we were saying before you came,
because it was, because all the group was very mixed, we were very clear that, y’know, us being straight, is about also that taking that leadership, and ACT UP internationally is where you did it. So, y’know, just re-reading this here about y’know, at attack – we were gonna ‘de-leaflet’, that’s a polite word, the Swiss booth, it’s because Swiss gay men with HIV and AIDS were saying that we need to do it cos of this. And we’d go, well we trust you, we don’t need to know the detail.
JB: We’ll be there in 10 minutes.
MW: We’ll be there in 10 minutes to de-leaflet it. So I think that’s quite an important thing y’know about getting that leadership from people who you knew and trusted. We never did get to Yokohama though, that was a bit further to… But the Berlin one, though, we did get 50 free flights, paid for by –
JB: There was a big debate about that, as you can imagine, about taking drug company money.
GC: Massive debate, yeah, this was after ACT UP in the UK –
JB: There was a lot of conflict actually –
GC: – and the Wellcome Foundation, or whatever, offered to fund 50 activists to go to the conference.
MW: And again, I think they were particularly looking for people with HIV, but we took a broad understanding of that. It was quite amusing, cos at one point we almost got our own plane, and in the end I remember, cos I had the tickets for all of it, and we were flying from City of London Airport, it’s only time I’ve ever flown from there, it was very exciting, but it was a 70 seater and they said no they weren’t gonna sell the other seats, and it makes it cheaper, and I think we were told there were 10 other seats and we all go on the plane and there’s 50 people and 10 ordinary passengers. It was quite amusing cos when they came to do those, y’know, this side of the plane and left, everybody stood up and started doing [hand signals] It was really weird, and me, this working-class lad turning up to sit in an airport with 50 plane tickets and just looking out for people and going, ‘Are you going to Berlin?’
GC: You’re right, but that was a big debate as to whether to take that money or not as you can imagine. Then it was the weighing up as to – yeah –
JB: And that debate still continues now doesn’t it, about who you take money from, but it was just my first experience of that. Certainly, in the third sector now, they’re really uncomfortable about taking money from organisations.
GC: I don’t know how it had come about, cos when we thought it out, I mean Wellcome had approached ACT UP.
MW: I presume it was ACT UP London would’ve kicked it off –
JB: We still trashed the stall though didn’t we?
MW: Well Wellcome were one of the greyer areas weren’t they, I think, so…
JB: No. I don’t think there was any grey area.
MW: … cos the other arm, I think.
GC: I guess we thought it was worth it, we thought it was worth it cos it was a productive –
MW: Anyway, like the demo, we need to be thinking of ending this soon [laughter] I think we’re drifting now.
RH: Ok, thank you very much for your time; that was brilliant, thank you.
MW: Okay, you might need to end it before that last rambling. We made a point earlier on that was a better ending.