Thursday, January 03, 2008

Memorial AIDS Quilt

Honors those who have died, generates awareness about prevention

Caption: Paul Eckhardt and Doug Stevens were close friends with Minnesota native Larry Ford. “He was the first gay man I ever met who was a Christian and believed that he was alright with God and was not afraid of death,” Stevens said.
Photo by Lisa Kane

By Lisa Kane
Angela Nichols, Director of GLBT Services at UMD, was shocked to learn that a few of her students had never heard of the Memorial AIDS Quilt. In response, she arranged to have a collection of 15 Memorial AIDS Quilt panels displayed last month at UMD’s Kirby Ballroom.

The Memorial AIDS Quilt is an international project that features 44,000 3 x 6 panels and honors the lives of those who have lived with or been affected by AIDS. Its purpose is to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease.

Founded in 1987, the Quilt is a poignant memorial that ultimately works to generate awareness and prevent new infections. It is also the largest ongoing community art project in the world.

The intention behind bringing The Quilt to Duluth was “hopefully not only educate at least one generation but to raise awareness once again of AIDS and HIV in our communities,” Nichols’s said.

Though some individuals choose to make their own, the panels are often created by surviving partners, family members, and/or close friends.

The background fabric is sometimes made from colorful T-shirts (highlighting specific moments in LGBT history), baby blankets, or handmade afghans. From time to time, love letters, photographs, and wedding rings are sewn into the fabric.

Dave Folken, Communications Director with the Minnesota AIDS Project, is especially touched by The Quilt’s ability to generate awareness about prevention. “This is a one-hundred percent preventable disease,” he said.

Folken acknowledges that even though the number of HIV infections in Minnesota has neither increased nor decreased over the past five years, a disproportionate number of women are being exposed. “Women often come in contact with the virus through heterosexual sex with someone who is positive,” he said.

Renee Van Nett with AIDS Information Duluth is equally concerned with the rate of exposure in the American Indian community. She believes that the key to prevention rests in communication. Her hope is that every parent will “talk with their kids about HIV” and that everyone who thinks they might have been exposed will “get tested.” Her message is “be safe and if you need protection just call. It doesn’t matter where you live – we will come to you.”
If you or someone you know has questions or concerns, contact the Minnesota AIDS Project at 1-800-248-2437. To reach Renee Van Nett call 218-720-6385.