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Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP)

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Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk

A Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk in the 1990s. From box 36 of Tretter 153 (Minnesota AIDS Project records, 19179–2008) in the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies, Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis.

Founded at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Minnesota by a small group of gay volunteers, the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) provided education, prevention resources, and services for HIV-positive people and people with AIDS during the tumultuous early years of the epidemic. Organized on a grassroots level within the communities most affected by the virus, MAP became a model for successful community responses to public health crises. Its activities led directly and indirectly to a huge expansion of services and organizations serving HIV-positive people and people with AIDS in Minnesota and beyond.

In early 1982, mere months after the initial appearance of AIDS in New York, the outspoken gay activist Bruce Brockway became the first Minnesotan to be diagnosed with the disease. Within months, Brockway and a handful of other volunteers formed what became the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) in an attempt to respond to the devastation wreaked by the disease in Minneapolis’ gay community. In addition to Brockaway, original participants included Bill Runyon, Ford Campbell, Morris Floyd, Jon Whyte, Tom Wilson Weinberg, Brian Malloy, Eric Engstrom, Roy Schimdt, and Dennis Kearney. With their friends and lovers becoming sick and dying suddenly, and faced with stigma and public hysteria, they cared for their loved ones themselves. They also attempted to prevent the spread of what was eventually identified as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In its early years, MAP was a ragtag effort, staffed entirely by volunteers and driven by their passion. It drew strength from the militancy of the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and a belief in community support in the face of a frightening and mysterious epidemic. The organization operated out of volunteers’ homes, and began its work by opening a hotline. Volunteers answered callers’ questions about symptoms, explained how to care for people with HIV/AIDS, and gave out information on friendly health and social services in Minneapolis.

MAP’s work took a two-pronged approach: preventing the spread of HIV and caring for those already living with the virus. MAP volunteers provided palliative care to the dying and emotional support to their loved ones, responded to people in crisis, and founded a “buddy” system. Volunteers appointed as buddies accompanied people with HIV/AIDS to appointments and staved off the loneliness that often came with the stigmatizing diagnosis. In addition, the group was on the forefront of HIV prevention, giving seminars on safe-sex practices and devising an array of creative methods to spread the message far and wide.

Things changed drastically for MAP in 1985, when it began to get large grants from state and county health departments, enabling it to move into an official space, hire its first staff, and broaden its work. Prevention efforts ramped up; MAP did extensive outreach in the gay male community, specifically the bars and bathhouses that were considered central to the disease’s spread, while also educating countless mainstream organizations.

Along with being a main provider of safe-sex education, MAP remained a central force for support and advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS even as other organizations appeared in the mid-1980s. In a span of three years, it founded a housing program, an annual Pledgewalk for AIDS that served as both a celebration of life and an acknowledgment of collective grief, and a Life Enhancement Program for people with HIV/AIDS. To paraphrase a MAP volunteer in the late 1980s, the organization sought to pull back the “curtain of doom” that HIV/AIDS created, and foster connection, love, and joy among those directly and indirectly impacted by the disease.

Beginning in the early 1990s, changes in the landscape of the epidemic led to a shift in MAP’s role, ending its status as the central hub of the community response to HIV/AIDS. After thirty-five years of operation, MAP merged with the Rainbow Health Initiative to form JustUs Health in 2018.

Faced with a perplexing, terrifying illness ravaging an already small, marginalized community, the founders, volunteers, and staff of the Minnesota AIDS Project came up with a bold grassroots response, using compassion, mutual support, and the power of education, agitation, and insurrection to fight for themselves and their loved ones. In the 2020s, much of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy and public health infrastructure in Minnesota can be traced back to the seeds planted in those small meetings in the spring of 1983.

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“AIDS Cases in State Reaching a ‘Major Epidemic.’” Equal Time, April 29, 1987.

Cameron, Linda. Email with the author, January 24, 2020.

Campbell, Ford. Oral history Interview with the author, February 10, 2020.

Floyd, Morris. Phone interview with Lorraine Teel, October 17, 2003.

Heim, C. “AIDS and Bath Houses.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 19, 1986.

“HIV Law Faces Court Challenge.” Equal Time, July 22, 1987.

Jefferis, Michael. Oral history interview with the author, July 26, 2018.

JustUs Health. 30 Years of the Minnesota AIDS Walk.
https://www.justushealth.org/news/30-years-minnesota-aids-walk

JustUs Health. Our History: Formation of JustUs Health.
https://www.justushealth.mn/about-us/our-purpose/history

Kasel, Mark. “Minneapolis City Council Approves HIV Ordinance.” TC Gaze, April 7, 1988.

Kearney, Dennis. Phone interview with Lorraine Teel, October 29, 2003.

OH50
Not Waiting for a Cure Oral History Project
Oral History Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: This collection includes nineteen narrations documenting the memory of those working in and lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The narrators discuss the reasons for their actions, the effect the epidemic has had on their faith, their commitments to other issues, and their image of the United States. Interviews were conducted in 1994 and 1995, when the epidemic was entering its second decade.
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display?irn=10469040

Periodicals collection, Quatrefoil Library, Minneapolis.

Ritter, John. “The Bathhouse and AIDS Question.” Equal Time, December 17, 1986.

——— . “Health Commissioner’s Proposal on ‘High-Risk’ Establishments.” Equal Time, September 16, 1987.

Schroeder, Jim. “High Number of Residents Support Mandatory HIV Testing, Quarantine.” Equal Time, May 27, 1987.

——— . “KSTP-TV Ads Discount Condom Use: MAP Objects.” Equal Time, March 4, 1987.

Tretter 153
Minnesota AIDS Project records, 1979–2008
Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies
Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis
https://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/13/resources/2009

Tretter 368
HIV/AIDS Caregivers Oral History Project
Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies
Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
https://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/13/resources/2123

Teel, Lorraine. Oral History Interview with the author, February 18, 2020.

Tyrrell, Gary. Oral History interview with the author, January 23, 2020.

Vertical files. James K. Hosmer Special Collections, Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis.
http://hclib.org/specialcollections

Whyte, John, and Tom Wilson Weinburg. Phone interview with Ann Rubin and Amy Weiss, October 20, 2003.

Related Images

Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk
Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk
Bruce Brockway
Bruce Brockway
Bruce Brockway
Bruce Brockway
Minnesota AIDS Project condoms log
Minnesota AIDS Project condoms log
Minnesota AIDS Project pamphlet
Minnesota AIDS Project pamphlet
Minnesota AIDS Project pamphlet
Minnesota AIDS Project pamphlet
AIDS vigil flyer
AIDS vigil flyer
Minnesota AIDS Project newsletter
Minnesota AIDS Project newsletter
Lorraine Teel
Lorraine Teel
Unidentified man with Minnesota AIDS Project literature
Unidentified man with Minnesota AIDS Project literature
Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk volunteers
Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk volunteers
Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk
Minnesota AIDS Project Pledgewalk
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteer Carlton Hogan
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteer Carlton Hogan
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteer Meagan Moglade
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteer Meagan Moglade
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteer Richard Bradley
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteer Richard Bradley
Minnesota AIDS Project employees
Minnesota AIDS Project employees
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteers marching in the 2013 Pride Parade
Minnesota AIDS Project volunteers marching in the 2013 Pride Parade

Turning Point

In February of 1983, a small group of gay men begins meeting to organize a response to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis in Minneapolis. This group became the Minnesota AIDS Project, which in the coming years would provide crucial care and support, safe-sex education, and political advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS around the state.

Chronology

1981

The first cases of what will come to be known as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) are identified in five gay men in New York City on June 5. By the end of the year, the disease spreads among gay men in New York and San Francisco.

1981

Bruce Brockway, an outspoken Minneapolis gay activist, is hospitalized in December with an array of mysterious conditions. Soon, he becomes the first Minnesotan to be diagnosed with AIDS. He died in 1984, after co-founding the Minnesota AIDS Project.

1983

As the community is rocked by AIDS diagnoses in February, sudden deaths, stigma, shame, and fear, a small group of gay men begins to organize support services for people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones. This will become the Minnesota AIDS Project.

1983

Articles of incorporation are filed on April 27 to create the “Minnesota AIDS Medical Project.” In its earliest years, the small group of volunteers provides emotional support to and advocates for people with HIV/AIDS in an otherwise barren landscape.

1985

MAP expands its prevention efforts, developing the “Captain Condom” mascot, beginning intensive volunteer outreach in gay bars and bathhouses, and distributing over one million condoms as HIV continues to spread at alarming rates.

1985

Funding from the Department of Health, Minneapolis, and Hennepin County enables MAP to expand into its own space, hire an executive director and other staff, and make forays into education and advocacy work.

1986

The one hundredth case of AIDS is reported in Minnesota on June 1.

1987

The first blood test for HIV is developed, greatly impacting the prevention efforts of MAP and other groups. Now that a person can know their HIV status before coming down with AIDS-related illnesses, the number of reported cases begins to rise.

1988

On March 30, the Minneapolis City Council passes a resolution to shutter the downtown area’s commercial sex businesses that cater to men seeking anonymous sex with other men in an effort to stop the spread of HIV.

1988

MAP hosts the first Pledgewalk for AIDS in Minnehaha Park. Continuing every year, the event becomes a commemoration of lives lost, a healing rite for a grieving community, and a vital fundraiser for the organization.

1989

The field of HIV/AIDS services, prevention, and education begins to expand and diversify in the Twin Cities. Additional organizations and improved AIDS competency in the health and social services systems at large change MAP’s position in the community.

1990

The Ryan White CARE Act is signed into law on August 18, increasing federal funding for HIV/AIDS services. MAP continues to broaden its work, expanding its housing program, safe-sex education, lobbying, and political advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS.

1994

MAP launches Mainline, its pioneering needle-exchange program, as part of a larger initiative to expand services to illicit drug users and other high-risk populations outside of the gay community.

1995

A new set of drugs, known as highly active antiretroviral therapy or “the cocktail,” is released, greatly improving quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS. With fewer complications and deaths from AIDS, the work of MAP and other organizations shifts.

2018

The Minnesota AIDS Project and the Rainbow Health Initiative merge to form JustUs Health, which continues to provide education, services, and support to people with HIV/AIDS throughout Minnesota.