Long before Donald Trump even ran for President, in 1989, he was the subject of a protest by AIDS activists. Lee Snider’s photos of ACT UPs 1989 protest outside Trump Tower in New York against city valuing developers over homeless people living with HIV/AIDS.
On Oct. 31, 1989, roughly 100 protesters from the AIDS activist group ACT UP New York descended on Trump Tower at 5th Avenue and 56th Street. One protester, dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, waved a sign demanding, “Surrender Donald.” ACT UP was in a fight for the lives of people with HIV and AIDS, striking out against government indifference and corporate greed. And they saw Trump for what he was: a monster in the making.
ACT UP, short for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, had been formed two-and-a-half years earlier, out of mounting anger over inadequate city, state, and federal government responses to rising numbers of HIV/AIDS cases and related deaths. The group quickly became known for their disruptive, theatrical demonstrations, calling for expanded and faster drug research, more affordable medications, and greater AIDS education. The Trump Tower protest was organized by ACT UP’s Housing Committee, which hoped to draw attention to the lack of housing for homeless people with AIDS.
Photographs from the October 1989 Trump Tower demonstration give a sense both of its boldness and its humor. They were taken by photographer Lee Snider, who had been documenting LGBTQ life and politics in New York for the gay press since the 1970s. Through the rain, protesters maintained a picket line, carrying a range of printed and handmade signs: “Silence Equals Death,” “In NYC 10,000 Homeless PWAs, 64 Beds,” “Money For AIDS Not For Malls.” Two participants hung a banner, “10,000 Homeless With AIDS,” from the windows across the street.
It was Halloween, and the protest took on a special, sometimes ghoulish campiness. A flier featured the headlines, “New York Tricked Out of AIDS Care, Trump Treated to Tax Abatements,” and “Don’t Let New York Become a Ghost Town.” One participant wore a vampire costume and held a sign depicting Trump as Freddy Krueger, with the words, “Nightmare on Trump Street.” Others wore paper masks featuring Trump with his lips pursed. Eventually some protesters went inside Trump Tower where they threw fliers from the escalators, eluding security guards. 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.