We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic but let’s not forget one of its horrendous predecessors, HIV/AIDS, which has taken a huge toll on gay men and continues to wreak havoc across the globe.
To bring awareness to the 40-year struggle of AIDS — a story of heartbreak, remembrance, social justice, activism, resilience, and hope — the National AIDS Memorial is launching a new web platform where you can see every panel contributed to the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
“The National AIDS Memorial stands as a marker in the national landscape to the tragedy of HIV and AIDS and this new web platform provides an important tool in helping share the stories of the pandemic,” said John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial. “As a person living with AIDS, I never thought I would have to live through two pandemics. While very different, there is a thread that pulls through connecting them together, rooted in stigma and discrimination. The Quilt and storytelling efforts can help us learn from the past to positively change the future.”
Through this unique storytelling initiative, the memorial features stories every week showing the intimate human experience of AIDS during the 40 years of the pandemic. The first 21 features have been selected from the memorial’s own storytelling programs and from other public sites. These stories testify to the long struggle of AIDS with the aim to educate, to remember, to reflect, and to support the work yet to be done.
—The 2020/40 stories include a moving memory about the panel made in the honor of two lovers lost to AIDS, along with the letters written in support that are part of the Library of Congress Quilt Archive.
—The story of AIDS activist Reggie Williams speaks to the courage of those who raised their voices to call for government responsibility and accountability.
—Stories from survivors, like Marcy Fraser, a nurse in the AIDS ward at the San Francisco General Hospital during the darkest days of the pandemic express the trauma of the early phase of the pandemic.
—Stories about Cleve Jones, the founder of the AIDS Quilt, and Jack Porter, a long-time volunteer, and historian of the National AIDS Memorial Grove, recount the efforts of survivors who dedicated themselves to activism, education, and commemoration.
—Stories of hope highlight current AIDS activism by young people like Antwan Matthews, a recipient of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship, who organizes HIV education programs within communities of color.
“These stories help connect people in a very personal way to the AIDS pandemic, not just from 40 years ago, but today,” said Josh Gamson, a dean and professor at the University of San Francisco and National AIDS Memorial board member who co-chairs its storytelling programs. “The face of AIDS has changed over time and this effort shows how the history and lessons from the AIDS pandemic are important today, as our country faces another pandemic and is once again torn apart by social injustice, bigotry, and fear.”