Protesters take over downtown for the National AIDS Action for Healthcare
Photo: Phil Greer/Chicago Tribune

April 23, 1990

“If you were HIV positive in 1990,” activist Roberto Sanabria told Chicago in 2020, “it’s like, Fuck, I’m going out. I’m less afraid of a police officer than I am of throwing up constantly and weighing 98 pounds at County with no meds.” At a time when AIDS was essentially a death sentence, many of those protesting alongside Sanabria were marching for their lives, taking the fight to the downtown headquarters of the big insurers and the American Medical Association to demand better health care for AIDS patients. Their demands led to landmark changes at Cook County Hospital and raised awareness about the toll of a disease too many Americans had seen as affecting “others.”

From the Archives

May 2020 issue
Photo: Michael Zajakowski

In the May 2020 issue, to mark the protest’s 30th anniversary, Rebecca Makkai interviewed 10 people who were there. One of them, Bill McMillan, recalled how he sneaked onto a balcony of the County Building.

“We went in drag, I call it: I had a dress shirt with an ACT UP shirt underneath. We walked right past the secretary into an office and moved a desk against the door. It was like being in a Fellini film. We opened the window and climbed out. Then we unfurled our banner: ‘We Demand Equal Healthcare Now.’ ”