The Denver Principles are the defining manifesto of People with AIDS' (PWAs) fight for self-empowerment against a seemingly inflexible healthcare industry. The PWA movement is largely credited with helping the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) overhaul how medicines are tested and approved as well as ensuring that women are a part of the testing procedures. The patient bill of rights also empowered people living with other diseases to network and organize as well.

Genesis of PWA Self-Empowerment

As those in New York grew frustrated from listening to doctors, nurses, lawyers, insurance experts and social workers talk about AIDS, they realized they were hearing very little from the “real” experts. The decision was made to attend the Second National AIDS Forum at the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference, which was sponsored by the Lesbian and Gay Health Education Foundation. By this point, some of the activists in New York learned of Bobbi Campbell and others in San Francisco. They learned that Campbell and others would be in attendance, and had been calling on organizations that provided AIDS services to sponsor gay men in order so that they may attend the conference. Alan Long, another person with AIDS, sponsored three of the New York activists to attend the conference in Denver.

The Denver Conference

At the conference, which had the theme “Health Pioneering in the Eighties”, people with AIDS from around the country met, gathering in a hospitality suite organized by Helen Shietinger, R.N. and Dan Bailey, who coordinated the event. Although an incomplete list, below are some of those who were in that room.

Those In Attendance

  • Bobbi Campbell
  • Dan Turner
  • Bobby Reynolds
  • Michael Helquist (Who was not a person with AIDS, but was the partner of Mark Feldman, who had planned to attend but died shortly before the conference)
  • Phil Lanazaratta
  • Artie Felson
  • Michael Callen
  • Richard Berkowitz
  • Bill Burke
  • Bob Cecchi
  • Matthew Sarner
  • Tom Nasrallah
  • Gar Traynor
  • Elbert (Last name unknown), of Kansas City
  • An individual whose name is unknown, from Denver


Bobbi Campbell took charge of the discussion. He believed in a political network of persons with AIDS groups in every major city. It was believed that these groups would then form a National Association of People With AIDS. There was very little friction between those in attendance, with only small arguments such as the terms patients and victims versus people with AIDS, the latter of which was agreed on as being the label of choice. This discussion led to the drafting of The Denver Principles.

The Denver Principles

The Denver Principles were drafted during the conference. They read:

We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘People With AIDS.’.
1. Support us in our struggle against those who would fire us from our jobs, evict us from our homes, refuse to touch us or separate us from our loved ones, our community or our peers, since available evidence does not support the view that AIDS can be spread by casual, social contact.
2. Not scapegoat people with AIDS, blame us for the epidemic or generalize about our lifestyles.
1. Form caucuses to choose their own representatives, to deal with the media, to choose their own agenda and to plan their own strategies.
2. Be involved at every level of decision-making and specifically serve on the boards of directors of provider organizations.
3. Be included in all AIDS forums with equal credibility as other participants, to share their own experiences and knowledge.
4. Substitute low-risk sexual behaviors for those which could endanger themselves or their partners; we feel people with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform their potential sexual partners of their health status.
1. To as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.
2. To quality medical treatment and quality social service provision without discrimination of any form including sexual orientation, gender, diagnosis, economic status or race.
3. To full explanations of all medical procedures and risks, to choose or refuse their treatment modalities, to refuse to participate in research without jeopardizing their treatment and to make informed decisions about their lives.
4. To privacy, to confidentiality of medical records, to human respect and to choose who their significant others are.
5. To die--and to LIVE--in dignity.

The drafters of The Denver Principles stormed the closing of the conference in order to present their work. At the presentation, the San Francisco activists had brought the “Fighting For Our Lives” banner. The presentation brought the crowd to tears, and it was a full ten minutes until the audience was able to compose itself. The keynote speaker, Ginny Apuzzo, in response to the presentation, opened with, “if those health care providers in attendance were the health care pioneers, then those of us with AIDS were truly the trailblazers”.

After the Denver Conference

After the Denver Conference, four of the activists (Bobbi Campbell, Richard Berkowitz, Artie Felson, and Mike Campbell) began to plan for the National Association of People with AIDS while on the smoking section of the plane. Afterwards, the first of the political organizations planned was formed, called simply PWA-New York. While PWA-New York initially was met with resistance by the Gay Men’s Health Center, the two organizations learned to coexist.

PWA-New York is noted for designing the first safer sex poster to appear in New York bathhouses. Across the country, PWA organizations became active. In Denver, local PWA members took part in parades and lobbied in the legislature (In general, putting a human face on the disease). In San Francisco, posters similar to those in New York were distributed.

In June 1984, the annual Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco was dedicated to people with AIDS. People With AIDS marched near the front of the parade, with Bobbi Campbell and the “Fighting For Our Lives” banner.