Creator of AIDS Memorial Quilt Can Keep Health Insurance Despite Lawsuit, Names Project Foundation Says
The Atlanta-based foundation that owns the AIDS Memorial Quilt on Thursday said that the HIV-positive gay-rights advocate who created the quilt and is suing the foundation for wrongful firing can retain his health benefits even though he is no longer employed by the foundation, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Williams, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23). Cleve Jones, 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 Names Project Foundation fired him because he encouraged a plan to take the quilt on a nationwide, election-year tour ending with a display on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In the suit, 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. Although Jones raised more than $1 million for the project, the foundation on Dec. 31, 2003, fired him from his $41,500 per year job. In addition, Jones said that the foundation threatened to end his health insurance, which it had promised to provide until his death (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/22). Foundation Board President Edward Gatta said that Jones was not fired but that the foundation's board suspended his salary at the end of 2003 because Jones had refused to meet with officials during the last three months of the year to discuss changes in his role with the foundation, according to the Los Angeles Times (Hollis, Los Angeles Times, 1/25).
Gatta said that he is "disappointed and saddened" by the dispute with Jones, adding that he is "willing to work for a positive resolution," according to the Chronicle. Gatta said that Jones would be allowed to keep his health benefits, which cover the antiretroviral drugs that Jones said would cost him $22,000 per year without insurance (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23). In addition, the foundation has authorized a display of portions of the quilt "as a kickoff effort to bring the quilt in its entirety to the National Mall within two to five years," a foundation press release said. The foundation is also launching a fundraising effort to open a display and visitors center in San Francisco and to underwrite the cost of a Names Project workshop, the Times reports. Jones said, "The real story isn't me. The real story is the [AIDS] pandemic is worse than ever and this potent weapon (the quilt) is being rendered impotent and irrelevant" by the actions of the foundation (Los Angeles Times, 1/25).