Stand Tall & Get Snapped
It was 27th June 1987 when a group of grieving friends first hung a 40-panel quilt from a balcony in San Francisco. They made a quilt of life to remember the lives of forty loved ones who were lost to life. They had died of AIDS.
The quilt is now the world’s biggest piece of folk art. There are 47,000 panels commemorating 93,000 lives. Laid end to end the quilt would cover 50 miles. Each loving stitch tells part of a story which has played a big part in the story of my life.
The history of HIV/AIDS is epic. It’s a tale that touches every aspect of humanity both the good and the bad. Its story is of disease and discrimination; kindness and cruelty; endurance and cowardice; love and hate; life and death; hope and despair. Many diseases – like the flu epidemic of 1918 – have killed many more and more quickly – but HIV/AIDS was a sentence to a lingering death – a slow death by many small cuts – never to the quick and never quickly done – a wasting death that wasted so much life and so much talent.
At the time I was diagnosed it was not possible to speak positively about being HIV/AIDS positive. At the time I was diagnosed polite society refused to hold the hands of sufferers. At the time I was diagnosed it was a disease referred to as the gay plague. At the time I was diagnosed bodies of AIDS victims were placed sealed bags before burial or cremation. At the time I was diagnosed AIDS stigmatised and separated. In the new world of new life-saving treatments it is easily forgotten that it still does.
A diagnosis with HIV and subsequently living with HIV changes a life forever. It changes how you evaluate life. It changes life’s most precious physical experience – making love. The fact the disease can be managed blinds us too easily to the powerful combination of pain, loss and responsibility placed by HIV/AIDS on the shoulders of those diagnosed sufferers.
We mustn’t pass by on the other side. We must not harden our hearts to the consequences for the victims of HIV. This disease calls on the sufferers to make a sacrifice in order to prevent its continuing spread. It’s a sacrifice not just for a day, or week or a month or even a year – it is for a lifetime, no matter how long the love or how brief the encounter. Love’s spontaneity is simply and forever lost to those who are HIV positive.There are many support groups out there. There are many who will offer help, kind words and best wishes. But at then end of the day AIDS only needs one casual mistake to change another’s life forever. The virus is as good at what it does as it is unforgiving to all of its victims. And once you are HIV positive this is the negative that shades the rest of your life and colours all of your love.
This is why The Stand Tall Project is important.
It is an exhibition of 30 people’s pictures and their stories about their infection and how they have coped. The project spans across the 30 years people have been exposed to the virus. The STGS project was run by a man called Edo Zollo. A near brush with HIV inspired Edo to create a exhibition challenging HIV 30 years on and make people question their common perceptions.
The portraits included Black, White and mixed race people, people from different religions and origins…gay men, lesbians, straight men and women. There’s a mixture of old, young and from various backgrounds. The project is designed to raise awareness; to help to break stereotypes and too, perhaps, to make people question what they truly know about HIV and how its infection affects positive people. If you can go and see it for yourself it is both moving and inspiring.
The exhibition reminds us all that a split second decision can completely change your life. There’s lots of info about the Gallery at www.readingroom.com/gallery/. You can tweet them: @STGSProject Or you can email the project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a season of merrymaking. It is a season of parties. It’s the season for another round and good-times all around. It is a season of goodwill to all that paradoxically exposes all to the risks of simply having a good time. When we wish our fellow man and woman the benedictions of peace on earth – spare a thought for those who have not been spared – for those whose lives will forever be complicated by HIV/AIDS.