Among the many dozens of articles, history features and obituaries I’ve written for Between The Lines over the years, one that holds special meaning to me is my reportage, when I was assistant editor, of the October 1996 display of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt on the grounds of the Washington Monument in D.C.
The 1996 event was the final time the whole of the quilt could be shown all at once.
This article is meaningful to me in terms of community. I am grateful to have documented the perspectives of different Michiganders who made the pilgrimage by chartered bus: A gay man from Battle Creek there to honor his lover. A student from Ferndale High School. A volunteer with the Lansing Area AIDS Network. Yoopers from Marquette.
The display carried emotional weight, the culmination of losses up to that time. Yet we were also on the verge of medical breakthroughs and, soon, HIV would no longer be the near-certain death sentence it had been for 15 years.
On the ride back, I overcame my shyness to talk with yet another stranger, Leon Golson, then working with the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project. I recall thinking afterward that, like so many others, he would likely be gone in a couple years.
Jump ahead to 2023 and Leon is very much with us, still fighting the fight.
The article is also meaningful on a personal level. Walking quietly among the panels, I ran into my friend David Sefarnik from Flint. It was the last time I saw him.
I learned later that my dear friend James Minterfering was there, as well, but that his dementia had advanced to the point where he likely would not have known who I was. So, it was maybe better that I didn’t see him.
Following his death in 1998, James would be commemorated with a panel of his own.
On a much lighter personal note, I relished catching a glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor being chauffeured in a golf cart on the west side of the U.S. Capitol.
Reflecting back on that trip to D.C. and how I wrote about it perhaps helps to capture some of the unresolved trauma and survivor’s guilt that lingers, too often silently, as undercurrents in the lives of my generation of queer folk.