Arts & Entertainment
Folds of Fabric
A Journey Nearly Forgotten
Originally printed 1/3/2013 (Issue 2101 - Between The Lines News)
It was early on a warm September Sunday. I stood with a friend at the perimeter of a large square of concrete blocked by a low, temporary fence. The sun just began to rise over the nearby buildings, and cast gentle light over the folds of tan fabric lying on the ground in neat bundles, spaced several yards apart. As I looked on, one of the workers came searching for extra volunteers to help with the opening ceremony. I glanced at my friend nervously, and then called out "we'll help!"
We were led inside of a fenced area by the worker. He asked us to join six other volunteers standing silently around one of the bundles of fabric. I inhaled deeply as one of the experienced volunteers gave us instructions. The bundle was folded into a square, and each of the eight volunteers was to stand on either a side or a corner. We were then asked to grasp hands, forming a human chain around the bundle. The volunteer explained that when our turn came, we would release our hands, and those on the corners, then followed by those on the sides, would reach down and open their section of the quilt. After the bundle was completely open, we were to lift the quilt square in unison, rotate it once moving clockwise, and then set it back down.
As those opening the other squares of the quilt began completing the ritual, tears streamed down my face. I had often heard and read of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, but it was the first time I had seen it for myself. After all of the groups rotated and replaced their sections, I walked through the rest of the memorial that was set up for AIDS Walk Detroit that day. The mourning of thousands of people, friends and neighbors, partners and lovers, mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents overwhelmed my senses, and although I would never come to know them, I wept for them.
As an openly gay college student, I have been spared much of the heartache that the LGBTQ community has endured throughout history. I was born into a more enlightened and accepting world than those who lived through the times of Stonewall, Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk, and the AIDS crisis. I will never be forced to stomach the tainted acid of the Save Our Children campaign. I will never have the privilege of being recruited on Castro Street. I have never known the pain of losing a loved one to a disease which has no name.
But it is for precisely these reasons that I write to you today. I write in honor of the memory of those that our community has lost, but more importantly I write to you as a college student with an urgent message. I fear that the fire that burned in the hearts of so many great queer and allied leaders is growing dim, and many of my LGBTQ colleagues are complacent. They are young and in the throes of becoming educated, and have never examined their own past. They have no idea what has brought them to today.
And so I ask a simple question: why is it that queer history is ignored? I do speak of those LGBTQ youth that pay little attention, but I also wonder why have they never been given the opportunity to have that first discussion? Why must our leaders, both in education and in politics, "shield" children from history? Why is there nothing written into textbooks, college or otherwise, about the contributions of Harvey Milk or Harry Hay or Ruth Ellis or Jim Toy? Will my colleagues ever come to remember June 28, 1969, or know the significance of seeing the AIDS Quilt for the first time?
We are closer than ever to our goal, but we must never allow the stories of those that came before us to be forgotten. We must keep the flame of their passion and perseverance alive within all of our youth as it is alive in us. We must empower students to find the voice that they have lost through years of political struggle. We must inspire them to remember the folds of fabric of the AIDS Quilt, and to recognize the power of its message, and of its importance.
And so I charge the readers of Between The Lines to create change. Write a letter to your representatives in Congress. Join an LGBTQ rights organization. Campaign for and contribute to pro-LGBTQ candidates. Voice your support for queer education in every way you can. Take the time to make a difference. The future leaders of the LGBTQ rights movement, and of this country, require it. We demand it.Anthony Wagner is a senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, majoring in Liberal Studies. He serves as the Director of Inclusion for Student Government, and as Chair of PRIDE, UM-Dearborn's LGBTQA student group.
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