Rev. Fred Gray remembers the time before the AIDS Quilt and all the progress that has been made since it was first stitched 30 years ago. Now, he hopes that bringing the AIDS Quilt to his church, United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale, will be one small stitch in preventing an unraveling of the progress woven so far.
“We decided we wanted to do something that was less church and more community. We’re hoping that this just develops more awareness and, with the looks of things politically today, that we’re not going to regress,” Gray said.
One time Gray specifically doesn’t want to regress back to is when those afflicted with HIV/AIDS were denied the medical care they needed and treated as pariahs. He recalled the time when he watched his best friend, Joe Hare, and Hare’s partner, Howard Reynolds, both die from the disease. He had to bring his friend lunch in the hospital because none of the medical staff would enter the room. “People were really very sick and dying very quickly. It was absolutely ridiculous for people not to care for about other people.”
Parts of the Quilt is on display at United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale from through Dec. 1 at United Church of Christ, 2501 NE 30 St., Fort Lauderdale. From Dec. 1 to 13, it will be at Compass Community Center, 201 N. Dixie Hwy., Lake Worth. Visit AIDSquilt.org/view-the-quilt/display-schedule for other dates and locations.
The brainchild of Cleve Jones, an LGBT activist from San Francisco who was featured in the Harvey Milk film “Milk” starring Sean Penn, the AIDS Quilt was first displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 11, 1987.
On Nov. 10, Jones spoke about coming up with idea for the AIDS Quilt during the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center’s “An Evening with Cleve Jones” event at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
Jones, in a video of his speech provided by the World AIDS Museum, said the idea came to him in November of 1985 when he and a friend were putting up flyers to remind people of the annual vigil held in honor of Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Both were murdered by disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White in November 1978.
Jones said the specific moment of inspiration came when he was in the Castro in San Francisco and saw a newspaper headline about the 1,000 dead from AIDS in San Francisco alone up to that point.
“I knew that of those first thousand to die, almost every one of them lived and died within six blocks of where I was standing. And there was no evidence. And I was getting angrier and angrier and angrier, and I remember saying to my friend Joseph, ‘You know . . . maybe if this was a field of rotting corpses in the sun then people would see it and they would understand, and if they were human beings they would be compelled to respond. And there was no response . . . I was furious and I didn’t know what to do.”
Days later at the vigil for Milk and Moscone, Jones asked the crowd to write the names of the friends, lovers, and neighbors who died because of AIDS on poster boards. Later, Jones and the crowd scaled the side of the federal Health and Human Services building in San Francisco and covered the walls with those poster boards.
“And I looked over the heads of everybody at that patchwork of names on the wall, and I thought it looked like some kind of strange quilt,” he said as he snapped his fingers, illustrating his eureka moment. “And I thought of my great grandma, Irene Rupert, and the quilt she sowed in 1952. It was such a warm, comforting, middle class, traditional family values kind of symbol . . . it just seemed like such an American folk art.”