Senator Jess Helms

Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) was one of the chief architects of AIDS-related stigma in the U.S. He fought against any federal spending on HIV research, treatment or prevention.  He proposed and passed laws that are still on the books, enshrining this stigma as official government policy. People with HIV couldn’t travel to the U.S. The CDC was not permitted to spend money on preventing the spread of HIV among gay men. Our country never launched a single well-funded HIV prevention campaign because of Jesse Helms. To this day, fifty thousand Americans become infected each year in no small part due to “Senator No”.

The first action by the newly formed ACT UP affinity group called Treatment Action Guerrillas (which split off from ACT UP a few months later and renamed itself TAG, the Treatment Action Group) and led by Peter Staley.  The idea was to cover Senator Helms two-story brick colonial house in Arlington, Virginia with a giant yellow condom imprinted with words:  A CONDOM TO STOP UNSAFE POLITICS. HELMS IS DEADLIER THAN A VIRUS.

The condom resides in Los Angeles at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.

Senator Helms died in 2008.