In 2001 when he was in his early 20s, Lucas Grindley saw part of the AIDS quilt for the first time when it was on display at a pride event in his home state of Florida.
“There was a real sense of urgency about what people faced, and what we need to talk about,” said Grindley, editorial director of The Advocate’s parent company Here Media.
Fifteen years later, Grindley has worked with The NAMES Project Foundation to bring three installations of the quilt to Beverly Hills as part of the city’s commemoration of the 29th annual World AIDS Day on Thursday, Dec. 1. The Advocate will also host “Voices of Hope” in the Grand Hall of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, one of many World AIDS Day events taking place throughout the local area.
Scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., “Voices of Hope” will showcase the three installation panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which consists of over 49,000 three-by-six foot panels that have been added by friends, partners and family members since the quilt’s inception in 1987.
Speakers will include actor Mel England, who received an HIV-positive diagnosis in the late 1980s at age 19; Greg Louganis, an Olympic gold medalist and gay rights activist who learned he was HIV positive shortly before traveling to Seoul to compete in the 1988 Olympics as a diver; and Lili Bosse, Beverly Hills Councilwoman and former mayor.
The three installation panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display at the Wallis Annenberg Center and the Beverly Hills Public Library until Dec. 4.
The quilt was started as a way to memorialize the lives lost to HIV and AIDS, especially since some funeral homes refused to provide service to those who had died from HIV- or AIDS-related complications when the epidemic was first identified in the U.S. Such discrimination is now precluded under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the quilt still serves as a reminder of the work to be done.
“Days go by, months go by with people only getting half the message,” Grindley said, referring to positive media attention in recent years about fewer overall diagnoses and advances in medicine. “To me [this year’s World AIDS Day] is a great opportunity to remind people that this is not over.”
Despite a 19 percent overall drop in HIV diagnoses in the U.S. – including a 35 percent drop among heterosexuals and a 63 percent drop among people who inject drugs – from 2005 to 2014, according to CDC data, the virus is still prevalent among some segments of the population. Over the same time span, HIV diagnoses among young black men who are gay or bisexual has increased 87 percent.
Raising awareness of this imbalance of how HIV/AIDS continues to spread, and how to confront it, has become one of the top priorities for some of the World AIDS Day event organizers.
“We ought to confront the risk as if it’s our own risk,” Grindley said.
Especially in Los Angeles, where approximately one in four people diagnosed with HIV from 1991 to 2014 was black, even though blacks represent about 11 percent of the general population, according to the city’s AIDS Coordinator’s Office. Latinos represented 25 percent of AIDS diagnoses in Los Angeles in 2010, a steep drop from almost 50 percent in 1991.
“The biggest challenge is complacency,” said West Hollywood Councilman John J. Duran, who is HIV positive, reflecting on the shift in public perception of HIV/AIDS over the years. “Without the scare, it’s harder to get people to pay attention.”
West Hollywood began its World AIDS Day commemoration a day early with a candlelight march from the Matthew Shepard Triangle to West Hollywood Park on Nov. 30.
“It’s always a somber and solemn day,” Duran said. “At the same time, we need to remember the heroism that occurred that led to the help infrastructures we have in place today.”
Since midnight on Dec. 1, WeHoTV has been broadcasting its annual 24-hour AIDSWatch, featuring 3.5-second black slides each containing the name of a deceased victim in white lettering. The broadcast will also be projected onto the north outside wall of the West Hollywood library.
The city of West Hollywood, with the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, will also co-sponsor a discussion with David France, creator of the documentary “How to Survive a Plague”; Mark H. Katz, a physician and AIDS activist; and Tony Valenzuela, a community activist and writer who has focused on LGBT civil rights.
“AIDS has had a significant impact on everyone in this town,” Duran said, recalling West Hollywood’s days of being “the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in Southern California” from the 1980s until the mid-1990s. “I was here during those awful times.”
He said “many friends” of his have been memorialized on the AIDS quilt, a panel of which will also be on display at West Hollywood City Hall. One of the most memorable times Duran saw the quilt displayed was in Washington, D.C. during the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, when protesters urged the federal government to take action on behalf of Americans suffering from HIV and AIDS.
“It was so overwhelming to see the nation’s grief displayed in such an artistic, expressive way,” he said. “It was such a profound moment for all of us.”
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