The Gay People Protesting Trump in the 80s

October 31st, 1989, New York City.

Halloween seems a prompt day to hold a protest about Donald Trump in our day and age. The LGBT community of New York City were already one step ahead of the game, protesting him 28 years ago in 1989, descending on Trump Tower at 5th Avenue and 56th Street. The protests, carried out by 100 activists, were fighting for the lives of people with HIV and AIDS, targeting corporate greed and indifference from political figures.

Enacted by AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), known infamously for their camp, disruptive and theatrical protests, the organisation sparked fury over the inadequate federal response to the dizzying rise in AIDS diagnoses and deaths. HIV charity Avert claim that by the end of 1990, over 307,000 AIDS cases had been officially reported with the actual number estimated to be closer to a million. Between 8-10 million people were thought to be living with HIV worldwide.

This protest in particular was organised by ACT UP’s Housing Committee, which hoped to draw attention to the lack of housing for homeless people with AIDS. Caught on film by Lee Snider, the photos add an element of queer solidarity and life to the demonstration through defiance and humour. Snider had already been documenting LGBT life in New York City since the 1970s.

Protesters eventually entered Trump Tower throwing flyers from the escalators. In the end, the police put a stop to the protest and arrested six people on charges of illegal trespass, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.

Historical gay magazine Outweek reported that Ronny Viggiani – the activist pictured dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz holding a “Surrender Donald” placard dubbed with the iconic pink triangle – evaded arrest. Police stopped the escalator Viggiani was stood at the top at, to which he shouted, “you’ve got to turn it on, because I can’t walk [down] in these heels”. Eventually, they did, and Dorothy descended theatrically as if in The Wizard of Oz herself.

Photography: Lee Snider