When the iconic, celebrity-packed Chasen’s restaurant in West Hollywood, reopened for one night (February 6th, 1996) and one night only, a multitude of Republicans gathered to celebrate the 85th birthday of Ronald Reagan. ACT UP Los Angeles took full advantage of the news coverage and star studded guest list to do what they did best, cause a scene for a worthy cause. Their drive stemmed from the Reagan administration’s silence during the crucial early years in the fight against AIDS, and outrage at the Republican party’s continued celebration of Reagan's life even after he cost the gay community lives in the millions. The ACT UP LA protesters came 300 strong, armed with drums, noise makers, and picket signs reading “You killed all my friends!” Ronald Reagan himself did not attend the party due to health reasons, though the protest was still an eye-catching headline and a win for AIDS visibility in the media some 10 years after ACT UP Los angeles was born. A quote from ACT UP member Pete Jimenez reads “We went there to spoil their party, the way they’ve spoiled our lives.” Echoing the evening's birthday theme was ACT Up's statement that 325,000 Americans would not celebrate their birthday's this year, due to Reagan era policies upheld by then Republican policy makers.
The AIDS epidemic swept through the nation at the beginning of the 1980’s, and major cities with large gay populations like Los Angeles saw rates of infection skyrocket amongst otherwise healthy men. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) Los Angeles was officially formed in 1987, and took to the streets with a passion for change unique to a group that was fighting for their very lives.
Reed, Mack. “Birthday Bash for Reagan's 85th.” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3 1996.