John Stuban at 911 Tyson Street
Activist Founder of ACT UP Baltimore
John Stuban moved from New York City to Baltimore, Maryland in 1987 and settled in a small rowhouse on Tyson Street. That same year, a group of New York City activists founded ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The new organization focused on bringing new visibility to AIDS and HIV through disruptive direct action. Since 1981, the number of known AIDS cases had grown from 234 to over forty thousand. Despite the growing crisis, President Ronald Reagan did not even acknowledge the existence of the disease until 1985 and didn't hold a press conference on the topic until 1987.
ACT UP criticized the lack of action by the federal government by staging “die-ins,” where protestor laid on the ground wearing t-shirts with the words “Silence=Death” and blocking roads until they were bodily removed by law enforcement. John Stuban brought this same approach to AIDS activism to Baltimore when he helped found a local chapter in 1990.
Together with other local activists, Stuban picketed the mayor's home and delivered a coffin to City Hall. A group of ACT UP protestors chained themselves to front doors of the city health department offices. They disrupted a Board of Estimates meeting seeking a promise from the mayor to consider complaints about Baltimore's AIDS programs and distributed condoms to students at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Stuban also sat on the mayor's AIDS advisory committee, the executive committee of the Greater Baltimore HIV Planning Council, and served as the president of the local chapter of the People with AIDS Coalition.
In 1994, Stuban died of AIDS at age thirty-eight. In his obituary the Sun described him as "outspoken, uncompromising, and unrelenting in his efforts to pressure local public officials to provide more AIDS care and to demand a fair share of money for AIDS-related research." Garey Lambert, a friend, projectionist at the Charles Theater, editor for the Baltimore Alternative gay newspaper, and founder of AIDS Action Baltimore, explained the importance of Stuban's efforts:
He made AIDS visible. He was an inspiration. He was upfront and in your face. He was the guy with the conscience, the guy who kept community scrutiny going on and on, and without that, there would be nothing done.
Even after his death, the work continued. Over two hundred people attended Stuban's memorial service at Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Cathedral and Read Streets. After the service ended, many of the mourners marched to city hall where they placed an empty coffin on the steps of city hall to memorialize Stuban's death and demand action on behalf of the thousands of people still living with AIDS.