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AIDS Memorial Quilt Returns to DC

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was first displayed in Washington, D.C., in October 1987. At that time, there were 1,920 panels honoring the memory of individuals who had died of AIDS. The Quilt returned to the nation’s Capital in 1988 with more than 8,000 panels and continued to grow with subsequent displays in 1989 and 1992. The last time the Quilt was displayed in its entirety was in Washington, D.C. in 1996 when it covered the National Mall from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building. During that last display, thousands of additional panels were added to the Quilt, including the one my family made for my brother Joe, who died in 1994.

Now 25 years after the first display, the Quilt is back in Washington in coordination with the International AIDS Conference at the end of the month. There is no single space large enough to display all 48,000 panels in one place, so portions of the Quilt are on display in over 50 locations throughout the metropolitan area. HRC is honored to host 10 panels in our Equality Forum throughout the month of July.

The Quilt continues to send the message of the enormity of the AIDS pandemic and the peril of ignoring a health threat just because it disproportionally affects a marginalized population. At the same time, the message the Quilt sends is an individual and personal one. In 1996, members of my family contributed to the creation of Joe’s panel. It includes a line from a favorite song he used to play on my sister’s piano, images of different places that held a special place in his heart – Delaware, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico – all framed in a bed of roses depicting his love of flowers.

When I saw Joe’s panel last week for the first time in sixteen years, I looked closely at one particular spot. It was my Mom’s contribution to Joe’s panel - a yellow ribbon pulled from a souvenir refrigerator magnet that he had sent her from his travels abroad. It was a prized memento displayed where she would see it every day. Adding this to Joe’s Quilt panel became a part of her personal healing process, which was not an easy one. We stitched together memories of Joe and came to terms with the loss, as has been the Quilt experience of so many families. It gives me great comfort to see that ribbon there now, forming the silk behind the beaded ear of corn in the outline of the state of Wisconsin.

If you are in Washington this month, take time to visit the Quilt at one of the 50 locations throughout the city, including here at HRC. That is where Joe’s panel is publicly on display. For those who can’t be here in person, the Names Project Foundation maintains scanned images of every panel - archived and searchable - on their website.

The 19th International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington D.C. from July 22 to 27. Learn more about HRC’s involvement by visiting hrc.org/aids2012.

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