AIDS quilt moving to Atlanta from SF

The Associated Press
Wednesday February 07, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — In 1987, the first stitches of the AIDS Memorial Quilt were sewn in the Castro District to remember a best friend. Since then, 44,000 panels have been added to the San Francisco fixture that soon will be leaving for Atlanta. 

That has some contributors feeling bitter and heartbroken. 

“This is home. This is where it started,” Felicia Elizondo, a transgender woman who has made 55 quilt panels since 1988, said Tuesday. “It just really upsets me that I’ve done all this work for my friends to be remembered here in San Francisco, and they’re taking it away.” 

The move has been in the works since 1997. The Names Project Foundation, keeper of the quilt, voted to move its national office to Washington, D.C., where it can lobby and work more closely with other HIV/AIDS organizations. 

Atlanta was chosen as the new home for the quilt because it was more cost-effective than Washington.  

In addition, it will be located in a facility that is light and climate controlled, something it does not have in San Francisco, said Edward Gatta Jr., board president of the foundation. 

“I am fully prepared that a lot of people will not be happy with this move. San Francisco feels like it’s losing something,” Gatta said.  

“A lot of people who make a panel think they send it to San Francisco and it goes there and that’s where it stays. Very seldom are they on the shelves, and if they are on the shelves then we’re not doing our jobs.” 

Mike Shriver, special adviser to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown on HIV and AIDS, said no one has contacted him about keeping the quilt in the city. 

“The option is still available for it to stay in the city,” Shriver said. “There’s an open invitation from my office and the mayor.” 

Shriver said the quilt is a testament to San Francisco’s decision to take on the deadly virus.  

It embodies “the psyche of the one place in the world that continues to do more for AIDS than any other place on the globe,” he said. 

Gatta said he would contact Shriver about creating an area where sections of the quilt can be stored and worked on for tourists and members of the community. 

Elizondo says she has threatened to steal her quilts back if they try to take them to the East Coast.  

At the very least, she said, they should allow her panels to stay at the Bay Area chapter of the AIDS Memorial Quilt that she helped co-found. 

“I don’t know if they have any legal right to take it out of here or if I have any legal right to keep it here,” said Elizondo, who tested HIV-positive in 1987. “What did I give up when I handed them those quilts?” 

Despite a feeling of loss, the Bay Area chapter of the Names Foundation understands why the move is necessary. 

“The chapter isn’t going anywhere and the move of the quilt is not going to change the visibility of the quilt in the Bay Area at all,” said Michael Higgins, executive assistant to the board.  

“San Francisco is where it started, and they would like to see it stay here and it would be nice in the perfect world, but San Francisco is very expensive. It’s not a nonprofit-friendly city these days.” 

The 50 chapters request segments of the quilt to display at various events throughout the year.  

For Higgins, the only thing the move changes is how the panels are received – they will now be shipped instead of simply picked up. 

And AIDS activists in Atlanta promise to take good care of the quilt that has come to symbolize education, remembrance, healing and awareness. 

“Obviously, we’re delighted. This is a great opportunity for our city to protect something that’s been a big part of our culture,” said Tony Braswell, executive director of AID Atlanta, a prevention and outreach program.  

“This really isn’t about one city, it’s about our country and our community. It doesn’t matter where the quilt is. It’s about the quilt and what it stands for.” 

The first panel was sewn in a backyard by Cleve Jones, who supports the move. It was a stitch to remember his best friend, Marvin Feldman.  

All 50 states and 35 countries have contributed to the quilt that contains more than 83,000 names and everything from champagne glasses and wedding rings to cremation ashes and love letters. 

And it’s those unique materials that make the quilt so special to people such as Elizondo. 

“The quilts mean they’re still remembered. They mean somebody gave a damn about them to remember them,” she said. “It’s comforting that I knew they would always be here in San Francisco. Never in my wildest dream did I think they were going to move.”