Memorial AIDS Quilts Displayed in Campus Library


Quilt hung up in the Livingston Lord Library, photo by John Hayes

For its Colorful Stories week, which celebrates the lives of LGBTQ+, black, indigenous, women, and those whose stories are often overlooked, the Livingston Lord Library has displayed quilts. These quilts are meant to represent loved ones who died from HIV/AIDS, a disease that has affected many Americans to this day. 

The quilt was created in November of 1985 during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic all over the world. At the time, many who were found to be infected by AIDS were often ridiculed and in some cases, fired and could not get jobs due to fears of getting others infected. 

Some activists took it upon themselves to create large placards that had the names of the fellow men and women who died from the disease. They hung these plaques on the walls of the San Francisco Memorial Building. When placed together, the wall of names actually looked like a quilt. 

Inspired by this, large quilts were displayed outside the National Mall in Washington D.C., during the March for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987. Each square had the name of a person who had lost their fight to AIDS. The quilts were spread in a space that was equivalent to a football field and the names of the people represented on each quilt were read aloud by several celebrities and politicians. 

“Back then, if you were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it was almost a death sentence,” said Pastor Joe Larson. “With the advancement of new drugs and medical studies, [the fight against AIDS] has really come a long way.” 

MSUM had three speakers who talked about their experiences related to HIV/AIDS, whether that would be themselves or a loved one having the disease when promoting the displaying of the quilts. Kathy Coyle, whose brother Brian died from AIDS on August 23, 1991, talked about how her brother influenced the public about the perception behind people with AIDS. 

“It was the peak of the crisis,” Coyle said. “People paid attention. They cared and 

they were very aware because of the lesson he gave them.” 

Brian was instrumental in implementing light rail transportation in Minneapolis and ran for mayor in the city. His name is displayed on one of the quilts displayed in the campus library. 

One of the other speakers there was Destiny Holiday, who had received HIV but has since recovered from the virus and wishes to educate the public, especially women, about how to be safe and remember the importance of one’s health. 

“I am a free woman,” Holiday said. “I am free because I believed in myself and I did not have to give up on myself because I thought that I was gonna die. We must tell each other that we cannot give up on ourselves.” 

Speakers Kathy Coyle, Joe Larson, and Destiny Holiday (pictured left to right), photo by John Hayes

Holiday owns an organization known as the Birthing of a Diamond, which is an outreach program dedicated to helping people in the community, whether that would be emotional counseling or support groups. Another speaker, Joe Larson, is a pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. He is one of the first openly gay pastors in Minnesota, whose partner died from the disease. 

“HIV/AIDS has been a disease that has affected marginalized communities for years,” Larson said. “LGBTQ+ being the most common, but minorities and people of color are also as affected.” 

According to data from 2019, 34,800 people tested positive for HIV. The rate of infection had decreased quite steadily by 8% from at least 37,000. There are no vaccines for HIV but there have been some tests underway that could slow the rate of spreading for people globally. 

The Livingston Lord library will have the quilts on display until December 1, which is also the first day of HIV/AIDS Awareness Month. 

“I believe that when you become educated about something, it really helps to improve on how we can offer solutions to others and be supportive of the people we love.” 

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