Guiding Questions

AIDS in New York: The First Five Years was an exhibition that used primary sources to display the diversity of reactions to the AIDS epidemic in New York City in the early 1980s. This time was filled with anger, hysteria, fear, prejudice, sadness, passion, frustration, and, most of all, confusion. The photos featured in the Sights and Sounds section of our website were used in the AIDS in New York exhibition to show museum visitors the emotional tension that was rampant in the city as fear and the deadly virus continued to spread. To help students develop visual analysis skills, use the photographs indicated below with these questions to create a deeper understanding of the social and emotional complexities of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in New York.

First AIDS Memorial Service in New York City, Central Park Bandshell:

  • What was the purpose of this event?
  • How was this a form of activism?
  • How effective do you think this event was at raising awareness? Does it help to create empathy for affected communities?
  • How did having celebrity news reporters like Geraldo Rivera or recognizable government figures like Mayor Ed Koch aff ect the success of this event?

GLADL Rally at NY Post:

  • How do the media affect public opinion? How does word choice affect the message?
  • Can you think of an example of words that mean the same thing but have different connotations (e.g., tenement vs. apartment building )?
  • Do you think this protest against the New York Post was effective?

Demonstration at City Hall:

  • How do local and national governments shape the general public’s opinion of an event?
  • How do laws and legislation affect public opinion of what is right and what is wrong?
  • Why do you think people felt the need to protest at City Hall?
  • Was this an effective event? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Anti-gay protesters hold signs across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York as the Gay Pride Parade passed by:

  • Why do you think this group is protesting? What is the effect of protesting about AIDS relief at a gay pride parade?
  • When you imagine a gay pride parade is this an image you would typically expect? In general, do you expect political outrage and public outcry at a celebratory event like a parade? Why or why not?
  • Who do you think they want to see this poster?
  • What does “Fighting for our lives” mean in this case?

“Silence=Death” poster:

  • What is symbolism?
  • What does the pink triangle symbolize?
  • Why do you think a group might choose such a loaded image like the pink triangle? What do you think they were trying to achieve through using that image?
  • What does the message “Silence=Death” mean, in general? What about in the specific context of the AIDS epidemic?
  • Is this poster effective? Why or why not? Do you think this poster is still relevant today?
  • If you were to create a public health poster about HIV/AIDS today, what images and text would you use?

The Normal Heart:

  • What is this play about?
  • What was playwright Larry Kramer’s objective in creating this play?
  • Do you think the arts (film, TV, plays, music, art, dance, etc.) can be an effective means of advocacy and activism? Why or why not?
  • How does arts activism differ from other types of political activism (like protests, rallies, marches, etc.) in mission and in effectiveness?
  • Why is a play an effective primary resource to examine?
  • Why did this community have to fight so hard for recognition and HIV/AIDS health care and services?

“None of these will give you AIDS” poster:

  • What colors are used? What mood or emotions do they evoke?
  • What shapes or symbols are used? Are those symbols easy to understand?
  • What is being said?
  • What information is being disseminated?
  • Who created the poster?
  • Who is the intended audience? How do you know?
  • When was this poster created?
  • What was the intention or goal for creating this poster?
  • What behaviors is the poster promoting or trying to stop?
  • Is the poster’s message clear? If you were walking on the street or riding on the train, how would you respond or engage with this poster?

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