Monday, December 06, 2004

THE AIDS QUILT .... OLD NEWS?

Wednesday, December 1, was National AIDS Day. It hurts to say this, but maybe it is time for a new icon. The weight of ribbons on my lapel already hunch me over so it looks as if I am searching for nickels on the sidewalk.


I was excited while driving to the University where the AIDS Quilt was on display. I had never seen it in person before. I couldn't wait to experience the energy and the memories that I was sure inhabited its presence.


And yes, I'll be honest, I was hoping to get a dirty little quote from a protesting Christians outside. A juicy, "God hates fags," or, "AIDS is Jesus' judgment on the abomination of homosexuality," complete with a name and church affiliation could mean some tasty controversy. And we all know that controversy equals hits. Hits equal links. And links are like search engine dollars. Okay, I admit it, I'm a Google whore

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Free parking was advertised. I'm a free parking whore too. Once, while in San Francisco, I gave up a whole afternoon to sit in a time-share sales pitch, not because of the free bay cruise or the free lunch, the free hotel stays anywhere in the country or super fabulous surprise gifts that would be awarded after the presentation, but for the free, unlimited, all day parking right on Fisherman's Warf.


I hate the Warf. I do not go to San Francisco for the Warf. The Warf could fall into the bay and I would not shed a tear, but free parking on the Warf? That is something nobody in their right might would pass on. Sure, I had take the Muni 16 blocks back, but I parked free all day at the Warf, isn't that all that matters?


As I pull onto campus, I flagged down an campus police officer (Sorry, I tend to get a little over excited when it comes to parking. Remember the AIDS Quilt?) and I asked where the quilt was being displayed. She had not heard anything about it, nor was she even sure what an AIDS quilt was.


I was surprised. If the University Police didn't know that the quilt was on campus, then who was keeping the right-wing gay bashing bible thumpers at bay? Surely they wouldn't leave a mob of religious skin headed zealots like that unguarded.


"It's in the satellite student union," said a passing student, in a light frolicked voice, "the brick building one on the other side of campus., that way." He pointed behind him as he kept walking, not looking up at me.


"What about the free parking?" I asked, leaning out the window.


"Lot B." He pointed off in the distance, staring at his hurrying feet.


"Oh, lot B," I moaned under my breath. "Free parking." Yes, I really am a freak, I don't deny it.


With my fake press badge in one hand, my note pad in the other and my camera at the ready, I started the long trek from Lot B to the Satellite Student Union, ready to capture whatever hit worthy scoop awaited to be written.


I saw the dark brick building in the distance. It stood out from all the rest. I thought it would make a perfect backdrop for the dozens of photos I would take of the hate filled picketers held back behind the barricades that separated the religious right from the respectful mourners.


As I got closer, the skip in my step slowly wound down. Did I get the day wrong? Maybe the time?


By the time I passed through the doors, my mood was anything but gay. On my right was a table of rainbow pride stickers and key chains from the local pride store, which I support, but I could tell that the turn-out had drained the gay mood from the owners as well, sitting behind the table.


To my left, one of the webmasters of the local gay website, also looking slightly subdued as he stared at his notebook computer.


Not only were there no protesters, there were no supporters either. How could this be? This was the AIDS Quilt.


But then again, it really wasn't. The Satellite Student Union was really a small theater. I walked from the lobby into the main viewing area and there it was on the stage. It was only a piece of the AIDS Quilt.


For a moment I thought I felt it, but maybe because I really wanted to. I felt guilty more than anything else. Not only because I came hoping to capture a Jerry Springer Gay Pride moment for my website, but because I really felt nothing.


It was so quiet and I was alone. I stood for a moment then snapped a couple shots on my digital camera before I left. This was a symbol of all the pain, all the neglect and all the death we as a community has suffered for over twenty years.


One would expect that every gay and bisexual person and everyone who supports our cause for fifty miles would make a constant line in and out of the building until he exhibit was over. But that was not the case.


I don't know how many people came that day, I only stayed a few moments, but I am sure it was not enough. Yes, the AIDS Quilt is old news. Yes, AIDS is old news. That is the problem. It is not old news to the 40,000 people who will be diagnosed with HIV this year. It is not old news to their lovers and their family and their friends.


Mention the AIDS crisis to your local gay activist and you will spark a passion worth of such a cause. Mention the crisis to your average Joe and you be luck to hear, "It's a shame, but at least it happens to the gays."


<>I hesitate to say it, but maybe the AIDS Quilt actually is old news. Maybe it just doesn't speak loud enough. Maybe it's just not in-your-face enough. Maybe it is too warm and cozy. Instead of panels of cloth on display in a quiet presentation on a college campus, maybe we need a coffin delivered to the steps of our state capitals. One for each person who died because AIDS is a faggot's disease and does not get the attention it deserves.

I don't know how the message should be delivered, I just know that soft and with reverence is not working.

I don't know whose voice should deliver it, but I do know that all of us need to stand up and stand behind whoever takes the stage. From what I saw on National AIDS day, we dropped the ball.