A large showing of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is on display Feb 12-20 in San Francisco for the first time in 10 years. The display of the quilt, consisting of 5,864 panels, each measuring 3X6 feet, the size of a human grave, was a emotional and powerful reminder of how many lives HIV has taken and continues to take.
It is fitting to show the quilt is shown in association with Black History Month and Black HIV/Awareness Day, which is Feb. 7. The quilt is a reflection of a time in African American community when only a few Black leaders, politicians and families took action while most were in denial about the facts surrounding HIV.
Although many brothers and sisters died in those early years from AIDS, African Americans hung onto the thought that it was a gay white man’s disease or that a person deserved the disease by bringing it on themselves.
Not a lot of us took the time to add names to the quilt. So as I viewed the quilt, I knew there would not be man panels commemorating those the African American community has lost.
HIV in 1985 for Blacks was a time where few churches would allow HIV to be spoken about, a time when funeral homes would refuse bodies of AIDS victims. It was a time when too many people who looked like me died lonely, away from their families and in silence. Those lucky enough to be with family would be forced to eat off separate utensils.
That was a time when backs were turned on our own.
Among those who came to view the quilt and to read a list of names were Lance Holman, who is 2010 Mr. San Francisco Leather, the first African-American to hold that tile. Holman was also a board member of the AIDS Emergency Fund.
“Today was emotional as I think back to so many losses in the 80s in the 90s,” he said, adding that he was drawn to the event to remember the many taken by the disease.
The display included many well known names: actor Rock Hudson, performer Liberace, tennis player Arthur Ash, hip hop artist Easy E, singer Sylvester, San Francisco activist Reggie Williams and Marlon Riggs, who influenced HIV/AIDS and African Americans through his films.
Perry Lang, Executive Director of Black Coalition on AIDS, talked about the absence of the names of African Americans on the quilt. “We also remember those who weren’t memorialized, but we know that God knows their names,” he said, as he prepared to read off a section of the list of names.
Rev. Roland Stringfellow, Director of Ministerial Outreach at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was there to also read a list of names. He commented on the progress Black churches have made, but also on the same factors of homophobia that remain and contribute to the huge numbers of Blacks deaths that still occur.
“Many church congregations have HIV/AIDS outreach but they don’t take the next step to help the congregation with self acceptance of who people are. Today it reminds me that it’s time for the community to come together and repent on their stance,” he said.
Rev. William Knight pastor of Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco said it was his third time viewing the quilt. “Each time I see a part of the quilt, I feel like I’ve lost a piece of me,” he said.
The San Francisco exhibit is free and available for the public to see at several locations.
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