- Fall 2016
“Being welcomed by Harvard to teach about the impact and joys of activism is a true honor. Today’s generation of college students realize there are multiple paths to making a difference in the world, and I can’t wait to explore with them what I’ve witnessed and been inspired by through activism.”
Peter Staley was diagnosed with AIDS-related complex in 1985 while working as a bond trader at JP Morgan on Wall Street. He joined ACT UP New York shortly after its founding in 1987, and chaired its fundraising committee for three years. In 1988, he left his Wall Street job to become a full-time AIDS activist, joining ACT UP's Treatment & Data Committee (T&D).
In 1989, Staley led ACT UP's campaign to force Burroughs Wellcome to lower the price of AZT. He organized activists to infiltrate their North Carolina headquarters and seal themselves in a third-floor office, and led a demonstration on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, disrupting trading and resulting in a price reduction of AZT three days later. In 1990, Staley was an opening plenary speaker at the VI International Conference on AIDS in San Francisco.
In 1992, Staley and other members of T&D founded the Treatment Action Group (TAG), and he became its Founding Director. TAG's first action and "art project" involved covering Senator Jesse Helms' home with a giant condom. In 1993, TAG successfully lobbied for a radical restructuring of the management of the government's AIDS research effort. The NIH Revitalization Act created a powerful Office of AIDS Research (OAR) to provide coordination, strategic planning, and leadership in the NIH's AIDS research programs.
In 1994, Staley was appointed by President Clinton to the National Task Force on AIDS Drug Development. He was also a member of amfAR's Board of Directors from 1991 to 2004.
In 2000, Staley launched a web site called AIDSmeds.com, offering complete and easy-to-read treatment information for people living with HIV. Since then, AIDSmeds.com has become one of the most popular HIV-related sites on the Web, and it merged with POZ Magazine and POZ.com in 2006.
In January, 2004, Staley launched a personal ad campaign to bring much needed attention to an epidemic of crystal meth use among gay men. Using $7,000 of his own money, he placed six phone booth kiosk ads in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York that said “Huge Sale, Buy Crystal, Get HIV Free!” Within days, the ads, along with the issues they raised, became a major news story, with coverage in The New York Times and on all three local TV stations. Two months later, New York City appropriated the first government funds anywhere in the U.S. targeting meth prevention for gay men. Other cities and states soon followed. According to ongoing CDC HIV surveillance studies, meth use among gay men in New York City fell from 14% in 2004 to 6% in 2008.
In 2013, Staley was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to New York State’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which developed a blueprint to dramatically lower HIV infections in the state by 2020. In 2014, Staley was appointed by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, to the search committee tasked with finding the next Director of AIDS Research at the NIH.
Also in the 2014, Staley helped form a coalition of advocates for Truvada PrEP – the once-a-day pill that prevents HIV infections – that successfully pressured Gilead Sciences to liberalize its patient assistance programs, removing barriers to access for this new tool to fight the AIDS epidemic.
Staley is a leading subject in the Oscar-nominated documentary, How To Survive A Plague, directed by David France. In recent years, he has lectured often at U.S. colleges, and during international exchange programs.