Lawsuit Over AIDS Memorial Quilt Reflects Changes in U.S. HIV/AIDS Epidemic, New York Times Reports
The lawsuit over the AIDS Memorial Quilt -- involving the Atlanta-based Names Project Foundation and Cleve Jones, who started the quilt in 1987 and served as its spokesperson for 15 years -- reflects the "changing symbolism and purpose of one of the most recognizable symbols of the AIDS crisis as the crisis itself has changed," the New York Times reports (McKinley, New York Times, 1/31). Jones and NPF in December 2005 reached an agreement on the issue of returning a portion of the quilt to San Francisco. Under the agreement, Jones will receive 35 blocks of the quilt after he creates a San Francisco-based organization to oversee them. According to the agreement, Jones was required to establish a "501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that will have the name of San Francisco Bay Area Friends of the AIDS Memorial Quilt" by Dec. 31, 2006. The settlement stipulated that if the deadline was not met, the foundation would be "relieved of any obligation to supply blocks of the quilt to the nonprofit." Jones said that he established a not-for-profit by the deadline through the San Francisco-based Tides Center, which oversees more than 200 projects. The dispute arises from the Tide Center's Web site, which states that it is "legally and financially responsible for all Tides Center projects and activities" and that "[p]rojects are not separate entities or affiliated organizations -- projects are Tides Center." An attorney for NPF earlier this month said Jones has not met the requirement (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/5). According to the Times, the lawsuit touches on issues concerning HIV/AIDS that are "percolating through the AIDS community," including the new racial, social and international demographics of the disease and changes in philanthropic trends. The lawsuit also has raised the issue of whether memorials are appropriate in light of other problems, such as the emergence of new drug-resistant HIV strains and an increase in unsafe sexual practices.
Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco-based writer and HIV/AIDS advocate, said, "The quilt was very effective in the late '80s and early '90s for AIDS awareness," adding, "On the other hand, there's hundreds and thousands of people that need a housing subsidy, just trying to keep a roof over their head. Should we be putting our time and money into another vigil?" Kandy Ferree, president and CEO of the National AIDS Fund, said that although she supports the quilt, she thinks its value in the AIDS community has diminished in part because it is so large and seldom seen in its entirety, the Times reports. Stop AIDS Project Executive Director Robert McMullin said that some people think that the quilt might have "lost its punch" over time. "The quilt is about loss," McMullin said, adding, "And while people are still dying, for most of us, the most important part of our message may not be about people dying." According to Jones, NAF has "taken it upon" itself to "decommission one of the most powerful weapons we have." He added that the quilt is not "intended as a passive memorial." The San Francisco Board of Supervisors earlier this month adopted a resolution that said it would be an "unconscionable and unthinkable offense against the citizenry of San Francisco" if portions of the quilt are not returned to the city, the Times reports. Some HIV/AIDS advocates also have suggested that the quilt be placed in a new San Francisco museum devoted to HIV/AIDS (New York Times, 1/31).