Vito Russo (1946-1990) was an American LGBT activist, film history, and author who is best remembered as the author of the book The Celluloid Closet.
In 1988, Russo delivered a speech entitled “Why We Fight” at the ACT UP demonstrations in Albany, NY and Washington D.C. His message is still poignant; it allows us to examine the progress we’ve made, as well as obstacles we still face, in regards to HIV/AIDS awareness.
Following is an excerpt from the speech:
Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.
And it’s worse than a war, because during a war people are united in a shared experience. This war has not united us, it’s divided us. It’s separated those of us with AIDS and those of us who fight for people with AIDS from the rest of the population.
You can read the rest of the speech transcript, as well as watch the video, on the ACT UP web site.
To learn more about the life and impact of Vito Russo, see the following resources:
- Vito Russo: Papers, 1969-1990 (PDF)
From the The New York Public Library Humanities and Social Sciences Library, the papers reflect Russo’s personal life and career as a writer, lecturer, film historian, and gay rights and AIDS activist. They include correspondence, journals, appointment books, writings by and about Russo, floppy disks, photographs, videotapes, audio cassettes, vinyl records, ephemera, and posthumous material.
- Queer Legends: Who was Vito Russo?
- Activist: The Times of Vito Russo (Facebook page)