Los Angeles County Hospital

The AIDS epidemic swept through the nation at the beginning of the 1980’s, with a speed and mortality rate that snapped the nation out of its golden age of sexual liberation. Major cities like Los Angeles, with a large gay population, saw rates of opportunistic infections skyrocket amongst otherwise healthy men. Los Angeles was quick to jump into action, responding with grassroots activism that quickly grew in size as well as structure. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) Los Angeles was officially formed in 1987, and they took to the streets to passionately fight for a group that is fighting for their own lives. Many of their demonstrations targeted public institutions like the CDC, FDA, and in this instance LA County + USC Medical Center.

Los Angeles County Hospital, now LAC + USC Medical Center, first opened its doors in the 1930’s. ACT UP/LA saw this as the perfect backdrop in front of which to protest the lack of medical care made available to people with AIDS. Activists gathered in late January of 1989, up to 350 people at a time, and held 24 hour vigil for a week straight. They held candlelight meditations, and at least one group was to stay through the night representing their cause. The activists staged a mock AIDS ward, complete with cots and a soup kitchen, to make their demands clear: an AIDS ward was a timely and necessary addition to their hospital. Ample news coverage assisted ACT UP’s visibility, and their zaps (raucous public demonstrations designed to humiliate public figures like celebrities and politicians while calling attention to LGBT issues), die-ins, and plentiful slogans did draw plenty of attention. ACT UP/LA succeeded in negotiating plans to open an AIDS ward later that year, however only 12 of the 60 promised beds in the deal were actualized.

Smaller demonstrations were also held in front of LAC Hospital, like the protest of limited pharmacy and clinic hours at LAC USC Hospital. This involved less of a crowd, though the melodramatic zapping methodology commonly employed by Mark Kostopoulos, ACT UP/LA’s cofounder, was seen in full effect. Performance art with powerful imagery and sobering messages really took off during this time period, reinforcing why LAC USC Hospital as a backdrop was so important for AIDS visibility.


Dominguez, Laura. “How the Remnant of a Mexican Rancho Became an LGBTQ Landmark.” KCET, 9 June 2017, www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/west-hollywoods-plummer-park-and-great-halllong-hall-landmarks-of-hivaids-activism.

“Los Angeles Conservancy.” The Forum | Los Angeles Conservancy, www.laconservancy.org/locations/los-angeles-countyusc-medical-center.

Roth, Benita. The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA: Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s. Cambridge University Press, 2017.