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Video still from "Bleach, Teach, and Outreach" (produced by Catherine Gund and Ray Navarro, 1989)

Visual AIDS presents "Sex, Drugs, and TV: Manifesting Harm Reduction through AIDS Activist Media," an online and in-person screening highlighting the contributions of AIDS activism to the harm reduction movement.

The screening is presented as part of Rosine 2.0 In Context on Friday March 19 at Swarthmore College, a series of public programs that explore harm reduction, mutual aid, and healing in solidarity with Philadelphia’s drug users, sex workers, and unhoused communities. Learn more at and RSVP for the in-person screening here.

Sex, Drugs, and TV: Manifesting Harm Reduction through AIDS Activist Media

From condoms and safer sex to needle exchange programs, AIDS activists helped catalyze the development of harm reduction in the 1980s. Responding to a lack of government initiatives, activists produced videotapes and public access television programs to disseminate sex positive, judgment-free information to the public and to compare notes with other activists working around the world. Sex, Drugs, and TV brings together a selection of historic activist videos from the early AIDS crisis along with recent artist videos commissioned by Visual AIDS. The videos speak to the ongoing urgency of the AIDS crisis and offer inspiration and insight for contemporary conversations around harm reduction.

Cheryl Dunye & Ellen Spiro, Diana’s Hair Ego REMIX, 2017

Thirty years after Ellen Spiro made DiAna’s Hair Ego: AIDS Info Up Front, the AIDS crisis is still raging in the deep South where the film was shot. Director Cheryl Dunye, after reading about the ongoing AIDS crisis in the South, visits DiAna DiAna and Dr. Bambi Gaddist in the hair salon in Columbia, South Carolina where they first began their innovative safe sex education work. DiAna’s Hair Ego REMIX is the beginning of a new story and new hope in the face of an ongoing tragedy.

Shanti Avirgan, Beat Goes On, 2019

Beat Goes On is an impressionistic portrait of the activist Keith Cylar (1958–2004), co-founder of Housing Works and a central figure in the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) NY. Cylar spoke clearly, frequently and with moral force about the struggles of people living with HIV/AIDS in New York City, many of whom were impoverished and struggling with multiple social and medical problems. His openness about his own drug use and the centrality of the fight against the criminalization of drugs for AIDS activism make Cylar's legacy especially resonant and relevant at this time.

Carol Leigh in COMPULSIVE PRACTICE, 2016

Carol Leigh aka Scarlot Harlot has been working as a sex worker/prostitute activist and artist in the Bay Area for more than thirty years. Since the late seventies, she has written and performed political satire as "Scarlot Harlot," and produced work in a variety of genres on queer and feminist issues including work based on her experience in San Francisco massage parlors. A "mother" of the sex workers rights movement, she is credited with coining the term "sex worker". Her recent work and archives are available at

GMHC, GotsToBeADrag, 1990

GMHC’s Safer Sex Shorts series, produced by Jean Carlomusto and Gregg Bordowitz, created fun and sexy educational videos that were distributed in community spaces. GotsToBeADrag featured icons from New York’s ballroom community including Tracy Africa, Jose Extravaganza and Aldawna Field.

Catherine Gund and Ray Navarro, Bleach, Teach, and Outreach, 1989

Produced for GMHC’s “Living with AIDS” cable TV series, this tape documents the emergence of a city-sponsored needle exchange program to combat the spread of HIV and details some of the issues faced by the project. Note: This video was available to stream from March 17–April 17, 2023.

Danny Kilbride, The Mersey Model, 2021

Danny Kilbride interviews Professor John Ashton, a public health official who helped institute the Mersey Model of Harm Reduction in Liverpool in 1986, the first government-funded needle exchange program in the UK.

Mikiki, Red Flags, a love letter, 2022

Through a cacophony of limbs, members, and sounds drawn from the party and play scene, Mikiki speaks with other drug users about the possibilities of representing the pleasure of substance use beyond the framework of harm.