By James Kent
My Affirmation birthday is May 15, 1988. I was still closeted at the time, until I met members of the San Francisco Chapter of Affirmation, and realized that I wasn’t the only gay Mormon on the planet. That summer, I accepted the challenge of making an Affirmation LDS AIDS Memorial panel, which would be put on display at the Roosevelt Hotel in West Hollywood, CA, where I attended my first Affirmation Conference.
I was given the name, Dean Sandmire, who was one of the founders of the San Francisco AIDS Candlelight Vigil. I decided to cross stitch his name, adding a cable car above it. It took me over a hundred hours, and it helped me through the panic attacks I experience during my first summer out of the closet.
Excerpts of a talk given by Ricky Gilbert at the Affirmation Palm Springs Conference in 1996:
“When the Names Project first began in 1987, Paul Mortensen asked me to make a panel for a member of Affirmation who was also his dear friend. Paul and Robert [Jacob] attended that first unveiling in Washington D.C. That next year, Conference was to be hosted by LA. Paul came to me and asked for my thoughts on an idea he had had while in DC.
“During the following discussions, the concept of an Affirmation AIDS Quilt came into being. Not only that, but he also asked me to put together a special event to unveil the quilt that October.
“The original document contained some 21 names. The next time the Quilt was displayed in Phoenix, it was unchanged. 1992, in Santa Cruz, the Quilt was shown again with the addition of 6 panels. In 1996, 19 more memorials to this sadly expanding work…”
No additional panels were added to the physical Affirmation AIDS Quilt, but Hugo Salinas, as webmaster of Affirmation.Org, created a Virtual Affirmation AIDS Quilt. Over the years the virtual quilt more than doubled in size.
I was asked to monitor the quilt, fielding any inquiries, memorial tributes or photographs to add to the quilt. I’ve had only one negative remark, among the several positive compliments of the virtual quilt.
Some were bittersweet requests, like, “Please tell me more about my uncle, father, brother, mission companion, BYU roommate, etc.” It became a wonderful tool to connect people who knew their loved on personally. Sadly some people found out about the passing of their loved one by googling their name and finding it on our virtual quilt.
The face of HIV/AIDS has dramatically changed over the years. What was once a death sentence, became a virus that many are getting used to living with. We still hope and pray for a cure someday.
The Affirmation LDS AIDS Quilt is not a memorial to death, nor is it a warning against condomless sex. It is a memorial of life, love and cherished memories, with the hope and faith that someday we will be reunited with those we love.
The quilt was last displayed at the 2003 Affirmation Conference in Salt Lake City. Robert Moore is organizing a display of the quilt for this year’s Affirmation Conference September 12-14, 2014. If you have any questions or would like to help with this year’s display please contact Robert at Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org.