At the start of the 1990s the New York chapter of the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was essential to the continuation of needle exchanges, which provide clean syringes to injection drug users without disapprobation or discipline and have been shown to reduce rates of HIV transmission. ACT UP’s participation in needle exchange was part of an effort to build connections between political actors, especially across race and class lines, as the group sought a more expansive understanding of who was affected by HIV/AIDS. These efforts have been largely overlooked in the recent attention to ACT UP’s legacy. This article asks what the history of ACT UP’s needle exchange might tell us not only about the history of HIV/AIDS and public health but also about the ideals of health and recovery in defining the subjects, forms, and historiography of queer activist history.

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