Creator of AIDS Memorial Quilt Files Suit Against Names Project Foundation
The gay-rights advocate who created the AIDS Memorial Quilt and has served as the quilt's spokesperson for 15 years on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court claiming that the Atlanta-based Names Project Foundation fired him because he encouraged a plan to take the quilt on a nationwide, election-year tour ending with a display in October on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In the suit, Cleve Jones also alleges that the foundation did not keep its promise to reopen a quilt project office in San Francisco, where the quilt was first sewn and where the foundation was located until 2001. According to Jones, the foundation said that it did not have enough funding for the national quilt tour -- which would include voter registration for HIV-positive people -- and expressed concern that the quilt's first display in eight years would be connected to a national political campaign. When Jones offered to raise money for the project, foundation Board President Edward Gatta and Executive Director Julie Rhoad encouraged him to raise the $3 million needed for the project, Jones said. In order to apply for grants to help subsidize the tour, Jones asked Gatta and Rhoad for the foundation's current financial information, including annual reports or the annual audits mandated by the foundation's bylaws, but Gatta and Rhoad refused to grant the request, the Chronicle reports. In September 2003, Jones -- who had raised more than $1 million for the project -- wrote a letter to the project's 15-member board detailing his concerns about Gatta and Rhoad and requesting "to be given new powers" so that the quilt could go on tour. However, "relations deteriorated," and the foundation on Dec. 31, 2003, fired Jones from his $41,500 per year job, the Chronicle reports. In addition, Jones -- who is HIV-positive -- said that the foundation threatened to end his health insurance, which it had promised to provide until his death.
Jones Wants Quilt To Tour
The lawsuit, which names Gatta and Rhoad as defendants, asks the court to put the Names Project Foundation in receivership, which would allow the quilt -- which is currently stored in a Georgia warehouse -- to be returned to San Francisco and displayed. Jones said, "We need to use the quilt to fight AIDS, and you do that by displaying the quilt in as many venues as possible" because the quilt -- which lists the names of 40,000 people who have died from AIDS-related complications -- "works where dry statistics and parental admonitions fail." He added, "I want the quilt to be used to fight AIDS, and if this board doesn't know how to do that, I'm quite capable of doing it myself." The Names Project Foundation's attorney told employees not to discuss Jones or the lawsuit, according to an unnamed staff member who answered the phone when the Chronicle attempted to contact the foundation (Williams, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/21).