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D.C. AIDS Activist Steve Michael Dies at 42


May-June 1998

On May 25, Washington, D.C.'s tenacious grassroots activist Steve Michael died of complications from AIDS. Michael, 42, was author of two of D.C.'s proposed medical marijuana measures (Initiative 57 and Initiative 59) and a founder of the Washington, D.C. chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Michael also lobbied for making federal funds available for needle exchange, and for the return of power to elected D.C. officials (Kai Wright, "ACT UP's Steve Michael dies at 42," Washington Blade, May 29, 1998, p. 1; ACT UP DC, "Steve Michael dies," press release, May 28, 1998; Julie Makinen Bowles, "Activist Battling AIDS Becomes Rallying Point," Washington Post, May 25, 1998, p. D3).

Michael was born and raised in Longview, Washington. He and his partner Wayne Turner moved to Washington DC in 1993 after hounding Bill Clinton and other presidential candidates on their AIDS records during the 1992 campaign. Michael ran for President in 1996, challenging Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. After WMUR in Manchester pulled two of Michael's television campaign ads, Michael sued the station and won a precedent-setting case against censorship of political advertising. In 1997 Steve Michael ran a spirited campaign for the District of Columbia Council in Ward 6, and served on the NAACP Citywide Commisssion on Police Conduct, among many posts.

As a final act of protest, members of ACT UP DC and other supporters participated in a funeral procession with Michael in his casket through downtown D.C. to the White House where they eulogized him. "If I die, take my body to the White House. Show the world that Bill Clinton has lied to and betrayed people with AIDS," Turner said Michael had requested (Patrice Gaines, "For Steve Michael, One Final Act of Protest," Washington Post, June 5, 1998, p. B4; Eun-Kyung Kim, "AIDS Activists Hold Protest Funeral," Associated Press wire, June 4, 1998).

Turner will assume the lead in the petition effort to put Initiative 59 on the ballot, and vowed to pass the measure in Michael's honor. "We've spent our whole lives together trying to get people to do something about AIDS," Turner said. "The work will go on."

[Steve Michael was fearless. He would confront anyone who he thought was not serving the public interest no matter how powerful. He was always ready to be "in your face," whether at the DC Council or the National Institutes of Health. In February 1997 he was ejected interrupting NIDA Director Alan Leshner, Ph.D., at the NIH conference on medical marijuana. Yet, Steve knew how to make influential friends and could use bureaucracies and organizations with great effectiveness. He was brilliant and wonderfully creative in thinking about political issues. He created demonstrations, slogans and wrote and spoke with verve, style and passion. I will miss him greatly. -- EES]

Condolences can be sent to his partner, Wayne Turner, ACT UP DC - 409 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, Tel: (202) 547-9404, Fax: (202) 547-9458, Web: <>. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his name should be sent to ACT UP DC.