ACTUP AIDSGATE Ronald Reagan Poster


In 1987, an organization known as ACTUP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) formed in New York City amidst the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. The lithographic poster above, known as “AIDSGATE” depicts the bust of Ronald Reagan with glowing pink eyes atop a greenish yellow background. Text crawls across the bottom of the poster to read: “54% of people with AIDS in NYC are Black or Hispanic… AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in NYC… By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War. What is Reagan’s real policy on AIDS? Genocide of all Non-Whites, Non-males and Non-heterosexuals?… Silence=Death.” 

This poster was designed as a part of the Silence=Death collective, specifically as a part of ACTUP’s third demonstration — located in Washington DC. It was the first national civil disobedience addressing AIDS, which provided a unique opportunity to formally indict Reagan for his lack of response during the early days of the crisis. 

When considering a designer’s role in the public sphere, it is almost impossible not to include ACTUP in the discussion. The coalition was a leader in spreading AIDS awareness through their many demonstrations and posters. The phrase “Silence = Death” became synonymous with Queer culture, even being incorporated into artworks by famous Queer artists, such as Keith Haring, who passed as a result of the AIDS crisis. This work reminds viewers of a pivotal moment in Queer history, and displays the significance and influence a designer plays on public and political spheres.  

UC Press
UC Press