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The Queer Activist Memoir We’ve Been Waiting For

The Queer Activist Memoir We’ve Been Waiting For

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

From Plague to page, the remarkable story of AIDS activist Peter Staley gets the memoir it deserves.


The veteran AIDS activist, Peter Staley--so memorably captured in David France's Oscar-nominated documentary, How to Survive a Plague--is now set to turn his remarkable story into a memoir.

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In Plague, Staley dominates some of the most powerful scenes, including a brilliant TV debate with homophobe Pat Buchanan, who served as White House director of communication under Ronald Reagan, and a stunt that involved covering Senator Jesse Helms's house with a giant condom. Now we'll get the chance to hear how those events unfurled, alongside other stories that encapsulate the anger and grief of an era that galvanized a new queer activism. And there'll be new revelations, too, including Staley's role in salvaging the disastrous initial script for the 2013 Oscar-winning movie, Dallas Buyer's Club.

"I've been on a wild ride, never thinking I'd live long enough to write about it," says Staley. "Going from Wall Street bond trader to 'radical homosexual' activist, as the late Senator Jesse Helms called me, was an unexpected transition. Others have tried to tell my story, but hopefully, my take on it will provide a far juicier read for folks. Besides, I've got quite a few stories I've never discussed before, from my troubled teenage years to my on-a-mission sexual coming out. More recently, I stayed mum on how I rescued the director and cast of Dallas Buyers Club from a shockingly dangerous script. Folks won't believe what they almost started to film."

In a banner year for LGBTQ publishing, Staley's memoir--set to be published by Chicago Review Press in 2019--comes at a time of renewed interest in the 1980s era of AIDS activism, with several films, including the riveting French drama, BPM (Beats Per Minute), and Yen Tan's 1985, starring Cory Michael Smith, which was well-received at SXSW in March. Much of this renaissance arguably began with France's movie, which drew on 700 hours of found footage to take audiences on a time trip into the impassioned meetings and demos that made Act-Up one of the world's most effective organizations.

"Activism is about overcoming pessimism, and I witnessed the queer community fight back during its darkest hour," says Staley. "Our powerful and beautiful response - people power at its most effective - should lift up all of us as we seek to change today's world."

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