In 1984, Giorno Poetry Systems launched the AIDS Treatment Project. The inspiration had come from what many might perceive as an unlikely source. When John Giorno told Bob Mould (from Hüsker Dü) about his royalty check for a recent Giorno Poetry Systems LP, Bob told John not to send it. 

"It’s about time people like us got involved,” Bob said. “We want to give our royalty payments to help people who have AIDS and we make an open challenge to other artists on the album to do the same.”

GPS recognized that what a person with AIDS needs most is money. If only a ten dollar bill in an envelope to someone alone and abandoned in a hospital, to buy candy, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and a magazine, room alter room down a hospital corridor. 

GPS then started making grants to small organizations helping people with AIDS—especially people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who were often overlooked by the government and the big foundations at the time. Later, GPS began the Poets and Artists with AIDS Fund in an effort to help individuals directly, many of whom didn’t have health insurance, allowing them to get through the six months they sometimes have to wait before being accepted by Medicaid, and during the six-week waiting period after they’ve been accepted but before the payments begin. The aim was to treat every stranger with the same loving kindness as you would a friend, lover, son, or daughter. 

“When a person got sick, lost their job, or became disabled, they needed immediate help. And that help was most often in the form of cash. So I would send a check. Grants for emergency situations: back rent, telephone, utility bills, food, nursing, alternative medicine not covered by Medicaid, taxis, whatever was needed. The grants were $500, $1,000, $3,000, $5,000. Money was given with love and affection! When a person is sick, paperwork is the last thing they need to worry about.” 

(John Giorno)

By 1990, GPS had given $258,669. Individual poets and artists, including Cookie Mueller, Tseng Kwong Chi, and Carl Apfelschnitt were given $162,357 funds through the Poets and Artists with AIDS. $30,000 was given to AIDS organizations. In the last year of his life, Keith Haring wrote a check for $32,000, for the AIDS Treatment Project. Musicians such as Laurie Anderson, David Bryne, and Arto Lindsay, among many others, donated their royalties from GPS Records LPs. 100% of all money raised would go to people with AIDS—none went to salaries, administration, or any kind of overhead. 

By 1991, GPS had given $350,285. Artists and poets like Gregory Kolovakos, Brian Mcintyre, and Matt Ward, many of whom had no personal connection to Giorno, continued to receive checks in the mail thanks to the Artists and Poets with AIDS fund. $25,594 went to the Tibetan Buddhist / Tibetan Medicine AIDS Fund, supporting Dr. Trogawa Rimpoche, Shakya Dorje, and Eliot Tokar, who use Tibetan Medicine to treat AIDS patients for free. GPS Records began including a line for donation to the AIDS Treatment Fund on their record order forms. 

By 1994, GPS had given $460,732. On December 2, 1994, GPS presented a 10th anniversary benefit concert, with live performances by Debbie Harry, David Johansen, Karen Finley, John Giorno, Penny Arcade, with Sonic Youth headlining.

"A Message from John Giorno," AIDS Treatment Project 1993-94 Fiscal Report, Giorno Poetry Systems Newsletter, 1994

We Shall Live Again: A Benefit for AIDS Treatment Project, Flyer, September 10, 1987

Husker Du Challenges Giorno Poetry Systems Artists to Give Royalties to People Who Have AIDS, Giorno Poetry Systems Newsletter, 1987

AIDS Treatment Project Annual Report, Giorno Poetry Systems Newsletter, 1991

AIDS Treatment Project Annual Report, 1991

10th Anniversary Benefit Celebration of the AIDS Treatment Project, Poster, 1994