The AIDS Quilt Sewed The Country Back Together

February 16, 2022

Briefs, Culture, News

By: Liliana Chavez

On October 11, 1987, the AIDS Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington DC. The Quilt, first conceived in 1985 by Cleve Jones, a gay rights activist in San Francisco, is an active memorial for the millions of people who have suffered and died of AIDS-related complications. Criticism towards those living with AIDS divided families, friends, and the country. The AIDS Quilt helped communities raise awareness and refocus on the real issue of AIDS. 

When AIDS was first identified, it was considered a gay-male disease, resulting in extreme criticism towards those living with AIDS. Those who contracted AIDS were ostracized by friends, family members, coworkers, and their community. Some were infected through blood transfusions and not through sexual behavior. Yet, these individuals were still viciously attacked.  The Quilt was later produced to help those who felt powerless and angry with themselves and others in their community.

Through the presentation and creation of the AIDS Quilt, the country began to come together. The reality of how many lives were lost to the disease and the variety of ways people contracted the disease led to change. Cleve Jones stated, “It could be therapy, I hoped, for a community that was increasingly paralyzed by grief and rage and powerlessness.”

The AIDS quilt is an active memorial to over a thousand people who suffered from AIDS. Communities donated (and continue donating) panels to the NAMES Project Foundation, the foundation that supported and created the AIDS Quilt. Each panel honors family members, friends, and many other community members who were lost to AIDS. Each panel would have the name, picture, and a memorable message to the individual who suffered and died from

AIDS complications. 

Passionate community members continue to volunteer tirelessly and major donors donate materials to help the Quilt grow. Now, the 54-ton tapestry has nearly 50,000 panels, dedicated to more than 105,000 lives lost to AIDS or AIDS-related complications. 

The AIDS Quilt incited hope and global realization of the reality of how many died from AIDS or complications related to the disease. The Quilt inspired over 20 countries to launch similar projects. In recognition of the Quilt’s global impact, Speaker of The House, Nancy Pelosi, nominated Cleve Jones and members of the NAMES Project Foundation for the Nobel Peace Prize. Nancy Pelosi described the quilt and its impact on the community as being, “Moved by the beauty of the Grove and power of the Quilt, we again renewed our vow to finally defeat the scourge of AIDS and bring hope and healing to all those affected.” The Quilt facilitated healing and brought the country back together in an honorable way.

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Liliana Chavez is a 9th-grade scholar writing for the ASK Academy newspaper, The ASK Catalyst. 

Email:  lchavez@theaskacademy.org 

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