AIDS Memorial QuiltAs part of the ongoing Gay Games activities, the Sydney Convention Centre is displaying the International AIDS Memorial Quilt this week. I went to see it today. Where I come from, quilting commemorates happy events: births, marriages, birthdays. I was curious to see how it could be used to memorialize a death. I’ve never known anyone with AIDS (though one of my best friends in college went through a scare and had to get tested), so I didn’t expect it to have that much impact on me. Within five minutes I was choking back tears though. It’s impossible not to. It’s not that the quilts are sad; in fact, most of them are cheerful celebrations of people’s lives. It’s just the sheer number of them, and knowing that each panel (and there had to have been over 1000 that I saw) was put together by friends, families, and lovers trying to come to grips with a life cut short. As I walked along, I marveled at how many of the tributes were for white thirtysomething men. I’ve heard gay men lament that an entire generation has been lost, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. And yet they didn’t all fit the stereotype – there were women and old people and young people and even little kids. It was just heartbreaking stuff.

I liked seeing the different ways people chose to commemorate their loved ones. Some just had a name and a date, while others actually attached items that were important to the person (teddy bears, jean jackets, even a CD). The volunteer assured me that I could take pictures, so I snapped a few of some of the panels that stopped me in my tracks. You just wouldn’t believe the creativity and work and love people have poured into this project. (The last one is for an eight-year-old boy named Troy. The pictures around the border were drawn by his second-grade classmates.)

AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel   AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel   AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel   AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel

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  1. When I was a sophomore in college, I worked the AIDS Quilt in D.C. i think it was the last year that they could display the whole thing in the “mall” area, b/c it had outgrown it. That was unbelievable, for those of you that are familiar with how much space that is.

    There was a vigil that night, a march with thousands of candleholders, pretty much held in silence and reverence. On the sidelines near the end, there was (the now infamous) Rev. Fred Phelps, screaming into the night = “God Hates Fags!” and “AIDS is the solution!”. To have a day where you watch parents mourn, see partners bawling, and then have this minister disrupt a peaceful gathering of those who had lost someone … It was truly one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen.

  2. Phelps… I can’t even think of anything bad enough to say about him.

    I was almost kinda expecting something similar, TD, especially with the Games going on and stuff. But amazingly Australia seems pretty cool. (At least in the cities; I think the wacko conservatives are all out in the country.) In fact, when I arrived at the quilt yesterday a guy was leading a discussion about it with a big group of school kids who were there on a field trip. The kids looked pretty respectful.

    I’m just amazed at how the city’s pulling together to host this thing. We were down at Hyde Park yesterday which is the “City Hub” where all the athletes register and pick up their medals and stuff. They’ve also got concerts and food stalls and stuff going on every day this week. I even saw my first athlete wearing a medal! I didn’t see a single protestor or anything. Everybody – visitors, competitors, people on their lunch breaks – was just having a great time.

    I like living here.

  3. My school (where I work, I mean–not where I attended oh so many years ago) hosted just a few panels from the quilt a couple of years ago, and students wrere allowed to go through the exhibit with their classes. It was much more moving than I thought it would be–seeing it on the large scale that you did would be pretty overwhelming, I think. Thanks for the pictures.

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