Nov 27 2012
Editor’s note: In advance of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, we invited Cleve Jones to speak to employees at our San Francisco headquarters today, Nov. 27. Cleve is a human rights activist and the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. We asked him to share some thoughts on Unzipped.
While World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, is understandably noteworthy within the HIV/AIDS community, today, Nov. 27, has particularly special meaning to me.
In 1978, I was an intern in the office of Harvey Milk. Harvey was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and one of the first openly gay people elected to public office in the United States.
Nov. 27 of that year is the date when Harvey and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in San Francisco City Hall. I was one of the first to find Harvey’s body. And that night, I helped lead an impromptu candlelight vigil, marking the deaths, from the Castro District, the center of San Francisco’s gay community, to City Hall. That march is repeated every Nov. 27 to this day.
In November 1985, a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that AIDS had killed 1,000 residents in San Francisco. Of that first thousand, almost every one of them lived within six blocks of where I lived.
As marchers gathered for the annual candlelight vigil a few days after that headline, I asked them to write the names of their friends who had died. Due to the stigma associated with the disease, they were initially reluctant, but many came around. And that night, we marched first to City Hall and, then, to the old Federal Building, which housed the U.S. Health and Human Services offices for the West Coast.
Using big roles of tape, we covered the façade of the building with the patchwork of signs with victims’ names. I commented that it looked like some sort of quilt, and when I uttered the word “quilt,” it instantly evoked memories of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers, a symbol of traditional family values. And that sparked the idea of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
We’ve come a long way since then – in terms of fighting not only the disease, but also the ignorance and stupidity that can cause it to spread. But there’s so much more to do.
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation estimates two new HIV infections occur in this city every day. And in 2010, the United Nations estimated that daily figure, worldwide, to be 6,400.
We know that highly active antiretroviral therapy – or HAART -- treatment regimens can reduce the amount a person’s viral load to the point it’s undetectable. And while that’s tremendous progress, we have to redouble our efforts to find a vaccine and a cure. We have to remove all remaining barriers to treatment – for people all over the world who can’t get access to the meds and, as a result, are still dying from this disease.
I’ll be thinking about that tonight, as we hold our annual candlelight vigil to mark the deaths of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, and as we continue to call attention to all that needs to be done to bring an end to HIV/AIDS everywhere.
Cleve Jones photo by Daniel Niccoletta
Posted By: Cleve Jones, Human Rights Activist
Tags: Levi Strauss & Co.
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