The Denver Principles were written in 1983 by the People with AIDS caucus—11 gay men with AIDS from around the country—during the fifth annual Gay and Lesbian Health Conference, held that year in Denver..
As my friend Sean Strub recounts in his excellent memoir, Body Counts:
As the conference was wrapping up, the eleven manifesto co-authors stormed the plenary stage behind a banner that read “Fighting for Our Lives.” They took the microphone and read the manifesto to a stone-silent convention hall. According to media reports at the time, at the end of the presentation, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” and the audience gave them a standing ovation that lasted nearly fifteen minutes.
The concepts expressed in the Denver Principles manifesto weren’t new—to a large extent, they were an embodiment of feminist health principles—but it was radical for a group of people who shared a disease to organize politically to assert their right to a voice in the public-policy decision-making that would so profoundly affect their lives. Never in the history of humanity had this occurred; for people with AIDS, the Denver Principles document is the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Magna Carta all rolled into one.
The Denver Principles defined the philosophical underpinnings of the self-empowerment movement for the AIDS epidemic and the network of service providers we created. It also quickly became a model for organizing by those with other chronic health conditions in the U.S. and around the world.
I am truly excited to see The Normal Heart get all the publicity in the world, including Matt Bomer also appearing on the cover of Details this month. But some of the language used in their piece is offensive, outdated and insulting. At best, I’d guess it’s a badly executed attempt at clever wordplay, but it still reminded me that I really want to post some additional historical context for the early AIDS epidemic here, too.
Image via ACT UP.