The AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. was founded in 1983 by a group of volunteers. The AIDS Action Committee began its life as a special committee of the Fenway Community Health Center and in 1986 became an independent entity. It is the oldest and largest organization in New England dedicated to helping persons with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Larry Kessler, one of the founders of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, became its first Executive Director in 1983 and retired in 2005. He was the longest serving director of any AIDS group in the United States.
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts's mission is to provide support services to people with AIDS and HIV and to their families and friends; to educate the general public, health care professionals, and individuals whose behavior could put them at high risk for HIV infection; and to advocate at the local, state, and federal levels for effective AIDS public policy and funding.
To support this mission, the AIDS Action Committee has developed numerous education and client services programs. The Buddy Program, which matches AIDS Action Committee clients with volunteers who provide one–on–one support and companionship, was begun in 1983. Other Client Services programs developed in AIDS Action Committee's early years include the Wellness program, which provides information on nutrition and various holistic therapies, and Minority Outreach, Mental Health, Housing and Food Programs. In 1994 the AIDS Action Committee conducted a survey on the housing needs of people with HIV, which resulted in the opening of the Joseph McAllaster House, Boston's first residential program architecturally designed to accommodate those needs. Other residences maintained by the AIDS Action Committee include the Joy Street Residence and Worthington House. AIDS Action Committee also offers financial and legal advocacy.
AIDS Action Committee provides a variety of educational programs for a wide range of audiences. The AIDS hotline, begun in 1983, provides information and referrals on AIDS–related matters; 10 years later, the AIDS Action Committee developed the Youth Only AIDS Line, the first statewide AIDS hotline run by teens. Safe Company, an advocacy and education program with a focus on eroticizing safer sex for gay men, was created in 1989, and in 1992 the program received the Jeff Barmeyer award for AIDS activism from the Greater Boston Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance. In 1996 the AIDS Action Committee launched the Safekeeping Project, a mentoring program which pairs young gay men at risk for HIV with older HIV negative gay men.
AIDS Action Committee also provides educational programs for women, such as Safety Net, a program developed in 1988 to provide women of color with information on AIDS. The Mobile AIDS Resource Team, begun in 1988 in partnership with Victory House, was designed to assist HIV–positive persons in addiction recovery programs. In 1988 the AIDS Action Committee developed the AIDS Education at Work program, which was designed to increase corporate understanding of AIDS, and provided workshops for both employers and employees. Also in 1988, the AIDS Action Committee created the Speakers Bureau, a group of volunteers trained to provide educational presentations to community groups. The AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts also distributes educational materials to other organizations, and its programs have been used as models by groups in New England and other parts of the United States.
The AIDS Action Committee engages in outreach and prevention activities, such as distributing condoms and bleach kits for drug users, and developing ad campaigns to heighten awareness of AIDS. In 1992 it launched public service campaigns in English and Spanish urging subway riders to use latex condoms. Two years later, it introduced New England's first public service television AIDS prevention campaign directed at gay men and also launched the United States' first statewide transit campaign for AIDS awareness by placing condom posters on 437 buses throughout Massachusetts. Also in 1994, the AIDS Action Committee sued the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) for unlawful censorship of a subway campaign featuring the use of condoms; subsequently, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority had violated the U.S. Constitution by refusing to post AIDS Action Committee's condom ads, and the AIDS Action Committee ran seven new subway ads, reaching 700,000 subway riders. In 1995, the AIDS Action Committee launched an ad campaign targeting women at risk of infection; this campaign featured multilingual ads placed in subway cars and platforms. From 1991 to 1996, Thomas McNaught served as Director of Communications for the AIDS Action Committee. During his tenure he managed press communications regarding the MBTA lawsuit while supporting other AIDS Action Committee initiatives through print and media campaigns. He left the AIDS Action Committee in 1996.
The AIDS Action Committee works with both national and local AIDS and public health organizations to educate local, state, and federal officials about the needs of people with HIV and AIDS. In 1988 the AIDS Action Committee's public policy team, the Boston AIDS Consortium, Multicultural AIDS Coalition, Latino Health Network, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders formed an AIDS Legislative Task Force to ensure fair legislative and funding policies on AIDS. Executive Director Larry Kessler was appointed to the Mayor's Task Force on AIDS in 1983 and to the 15–member National Commission on AIDS in 1989; the latter appointment enabled the Committee to influence national public policy. The AIDS Action Committee has also worked with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Public Welfare to improve access to health care for people with AIDS. In July 2010, AIDS Action Committee merged with Cambridge Cares About AIDS. The following summer, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and Strongest Link AIDS Services, Inc merged as the result of a strategic planning process initiated by Strongest Link in order to evaluate the agency's effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability. These mergers have eliminated redundancies, reduced administrative expenses, and freed up resources for services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
In 1992 the AIDS Action Committee created MASS ACTION, a network of volunteers who advocate for progressive AIDS legislation; it also sponsors an annual Lobby Day, during which volunteers advocate for progressive legislation and AIDS funding. The AIDS Public Policy Institute, a forum to teach community organizers how to participate in the legislative process, was developed in 1993. The Institute was originally sponsored by the Committee in conjunction with the Boston AIDS Consortium, the Latino Health Institute, and the Multicultural AIDS Coalition; subsequently the AIDS Action Committee was the sole sponsor.
The AIDS Action Committee raises funds in a variety of ways. The first major fund raiser was held in 1983, when Harvey Fierstein's La Cage aux Folles premiered in Boston. Proceeds from this performance enabled the Committee to print its first brochure. One of its major recurring fund raisers, ARTcetera, was created in 1985. This auction of donated art works was repeated in 1986; subsequently ARTcetera took place every two years. Also in 1986, the AIDS Action Committee developed From All Walks of Life, an annual walk–a–thon. This was the third AIDS walk held in the United States and was also the largest AIDS fund raiser in New England. In addition to supporting its own programs, portions of the funds generated by these and other events go to support the AIDS programs of other organizations. In 1996, AIDS Action Committee opened Boomerangs, a thrift store that generates additional revenue for the Committee. In 2006, the Elton John AIDS Foundation awarded the AAC with over $13,000 to support their education and client service programs. In February 2011, AAC received a $217,250 grant from the Washington D.C.–based AIDS United to improve access to local, high quality care for low–income individuals living with HIV/AIDS. AIDS Action Committee used the grant to implement the Linking for Access and Retention in Comprehensive Care (LARCC) project, collaborating partners included Partners in Health, Codman Square Health Center, Multicultural AIDS Coalition, and Institute for Community Health. In June 2013, AAC announced a historic partnership with Fenway Health that allows the two organizations to work more closely together and improve delivery of care and services to people living with HIV/AIDS. The new partnership strengthened advocacy, prevention and research efforts at both organizations.
From an organization with one paid employee and a volunteer staff of fewer than 30, the AIDS Action Committee has grown into an organization with a staff of over 100, supported by more than 1700 volunteers, and a client base of over 2100. As of 2000, the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts had relocated twice: first in 1985, when its expanding size necessitated a move from the Fenway Community Health Center to Boylston Street, Boston, and then in 1988, when the AIDS Action Committee outgrew those offices and moved to Clarendon Street. In February 2012, AIDS Action Committee opened a drop–in center and an onsite MOMS specialty HIV pharmacy at its Amory Street location in Jackson Square. Both facilities marked the expansion of AIDS Action's treatment adherence program which helps clients living with HIV and AIDS maintain their often complex medical regimens.
In March 2014, the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Executive Director Rebecca Haag stepped down and Carl Sciortino was named AIDS Action Committee Executive Director.