AIDS and Friends

Carisa and Mark - Carisa Cunningham.jpeg


AIDS and Friends


8 December 1990


Where was this made or acquired?

Javits Center, New York City


My friend Mark Aurigemma and I both worked at Gay Men's Health Crisis during the height of the AIDS epidemic. This picture was taken at a dance-a-thon fundraiser, where I apparently was in charge of media check-in. I remember the performances of Salt n Pepa, Queen Latifah, and Nona Hendryx. Salt and Pepa did "Let's Talk about Sex" and their hip-hop, girl power energy was insane.

Mark worked in client services, which was the truly tough work. We were there just as AZT was developed, and (for me) just before the really significant treatment combinations began saving people's lives. So the death toll was overwhelming. As a woman who identified as straight at the time, I could leave a lot of the sorrow at work. But gay men like Mark swam in sorrow and of course rage, as friends, lovers, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances sickened and died.

Mark was one of the early NYC ACT UP folks. Their creativity, boldness, and anger not only transformed activism and patient advocacy, ACT UP without question made treatments available much more quickly than they would have been otherwise.

That job and that time were transformative for me. I learned so much, I witnessed great bravery and pain, and I formed deep friendships. Late in life I started dating women, and it took virtually no courage for me to come out. In the 1980s, though, it took hourly and daily acts of courage to be LGBTQ in America.

Mark and I are still friends today, one of the great gifts of my life.


Carisa Cunningham


Carisa Cunningham, Boston, MA, @carisac (Twitter)


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Is Part Of


Carisa Cunningham, “AIDS and Friends,” Documented | Digital Collections of The History Project, accessed March 4, 2024,