Julie worked at Tampa AIDS Network after she graduated from college. I volunteered to help at various functions, including a display of The Quilt.
Ten years earlier, I may have had a different experience with AIDS activists. By 1993, they were pissed off and sick of inaction.
They were dying.
They were fighting.
They were heroes.
The Quilt was a collection of hundreds, maybe thousands, of small squares. Each square represented a life lost to AIDS and stitched together. The display allowed people to visit, and walk around the room, looking at the quilt and thinking about this terrible disease.
People read names into a microphone, names of AIDS victims.
It sounds quiet, peaceful. But volunteers were feisty. I learned more in that room than in college.
My job was to monitor a corner of the quilt. Hand out tissue. Listen to stories. My partner that day was a gay man. He had brown spots on his hands and face.
He’d already started working on his square.
He requested the spot where his lover and three friends had their squares.
I thought about Marc, Julie, Cathy, and Becky.
I could not imagine.
I held his hand.
This man. He’d worked with Larry Kramer and participated in ACT UP. He’d shut down the FDA for a day. He told me stories about fighting for drugs and medical treatment that had been denied or priced so high as to be unavailable.
He talked about how good it feels to fight for a cause, and win.
Urging hospitals and clinics to develop universal precautions.
Getting medicine for sick people.
Passing out condoms at schools.
Passing out condoms at churches.
Electing a President who didn’t hate gay people.
He asked me my major.
“History and political science.”
He said every political movement throughout history has the quiet and timid ones. The ones who don’t want to piss anyone off. Every movement also has the loud and bold ones.
“Which one will you be?”
Both sides are needed in every movement. In the fight for AIDS research and medicine, bold and outspoken members of ACT UP were the ones responsible for progress. For medicine. For action. For saving lives.
“We’re the gay Malcolm X’s” he said with a smile.
I wish I remembered his name.