There was a time when the pop factor mattered. Rock Hudson. Freddie Mercury. Magic Johnson. They helped “normalize” HIV and AIDS by shining a paparazzi-driven spotlight on the crisis. Pedro Zamora educated young people about AIDS, talking openly about his diagnosis on “The Real World” during what I believe was the reality series’ finest season. And for a while, Entertainment Weekly ran “The Faces of AIDS” on an annual basis, showing how the death toll impacted the industry. It was a somber, compelling statement, part tribute, part tragic reminder of the personal and creative toll.
Movies like “Philadelphia” and plays like “Angels in America” provided memorable characters to show the public the struggles that came with AIDS and to provide those of us closer to the crisis another means of grieving. Still, two works continue to impact me to this day as I reflect on the fears and frustration I felt throughout the AIDS crisis: (1) Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On which awakened me to the magnitude of the problem and the infuriating politicking that interfered with sound public policy and research efforts, and (2) “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt”, the Oscar-winning documentary on The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt which achingly told the stories of loved ones lost.
Today, as I stop to think about Stephen and Farrell and Don and Jose and Steve and Greg and others whom I knew who died from AIDS, I wish there were a public initiative for yet another grand-scale unveiling of the AIDS Quilt. Parts of the quilt tour the U.S. during the year and I am not sure that the 48,000 panels can be displayed in one setting. Let it be shown in large sections in public parks and stadiums on this day. The individual panels were meant to be displayed as a collective. While we marvel at medical advances today, people need to be reminded of the scope of the devastation from AIDS and its continuing destruction in parts of the world.
Today is a day to love, to honor and to remember.