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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (April 1, 1988)
C O M M E N T A R Y
Tokens of love
I knelt and placed my rose on Hugh s panel. Then I scurried to a
chair in a corner and cried. I was not alone in doing this.
T A D G H
O ’ S H I E L D S
I want to tell about seeing the Names Project
quilt at Moscone Center recently.
I did not connect with my brothers. Joel had
spent the night in the East Bay. So, after doing
chores at home, I figured I would go on my
own. I could take it. I was an old pro dealing
with AIDS and death. Right?
Finally Joel called. He was already there and
would wait for me at the entrance.
The metro was full o f people heading down
town for either the quilt or shopping. I stopped
on M arket Street and bought a yellow cose to lay
on H ugh’s panel. The panel that my brothers
and Randy (my lover-in-law) made has “ HUGH
RYAN” in yellow cloth letters sewn onto a dark
green background. Todd added some sequins to
highlight the letters.
I was one block from the hall when the
emotions hit me. Some Rock o f Gibraltar,
Tadgh. By the time I was inside I was a mess.
Some panels were hanging in the entrance way.
I did not see Joel.
Before entering the cavernous, underground
hall, I bought a directory and located where
H ugh’s panel was.
Visualize this: down the escalator into this
huge vaulted room. The panels were laid out in
grids with walkways intersecting. Soft appro
priate music was playing. There were more than
2,000 panels. The area covered was the size of
two football fields. Thousands o f people were
there already, but, due to the size o f the hall,
one never felt crowded. Everyone kept to the
walkways. The atmosphere was somber.
I found Hugh’s panel. The impact o f seeing it
was more than expected. I found that I could not
directly approach it. I wished I w eren’t alone
after all. I wandered around composing myself,
looking for Joel. Finally figuring Joel had ex
perienced the event and probably had gone
home, I went and knelt and placed my rose on
H ugh’s panel. Then I scurried to a chair in a
com er and cried. I was not alone in doing this.
This gave me an opportunity to see the
crowds. I was gratified at the scope o f the
crowd. Obviously there were lots o f gay men,
usually in couples or small groups. Many
lesbian couples, too. But also many families.
Young fathers carrying children. Mothers
pushing strollers. As usual four sexes and six
races were evident.
I wandered around on my own. Then I found
Joel. He too was emotionally affected, although
he has not experienced a loss due to AIDS —
yet. He now knows at least two people with
AIDS. We explored the rest o f the panels
There were monitors, all in white, who
would walk around to guide or assist. They had
learned to carry packs o f tissues.
I saw one woman, possibly the mother of one
o f the dead, sobbing loudly before a panel,
being comforted by others. Someone else
would be kneeling and reaching out to touch a
panel. We saw a small Xmas tree placed on one.
Some people, like myself, left a flower on their
panel. Except for sobbing and the music it was
very quiet. Reverent.
Some panels were simple backgrounds with
names sewn or drawn on. Others were elaborate
works o f art with articles o f clothing (jock
straps, leather jackets, ballgowns, whatever) or
feathers or sequins or religous motives sewn on.
The most moving panel was dedicated to
“ Baby Jessica” and made from a baby blanket
with her stuffed toys added.
There was one quadrant o f plain canvas
panels, with felt-tipped pens available, so
people could write the names o f the dead who
did not have a panel. I wrote “ P K . — 1985”
for my cousin’s lover. He will never speak to
me again. He did not want to be known as an
Clusters o f chairs were placed in the comers
o f the hall for those who needed to sit down and
cry or just try to absorb the reality o f what the
As we left, Joel and I stood on a balcony
overlooking the hall. With our arms around
each other we could see the quilt in its entirety.
It is sombering. One gets a feeling o f the
enorm ity o f the numbers and o f the individual
pain represented in this quilt that one cannot
com prehend through news articles alone.
We stopped to buy our Xmas tree afterwards.
I literally bumped into the mayor-elect. Art
Agnos, in the Xmas tree lot. I shook his hand
and congratulated him. advising him that I had
voted for him. I asked if he had been to Moscone
C enter to see the quilt. Having just returned
from a post-election Hawaiian vacation the day
before, he didn’t know about it. He told me he
had seen the quilt in D.C. on the Mall (he
attended the Gay March there), but he wanted
his kids (two sons) to see it. He hoped his busy
Sunday schedule would permit him to see it.
My brothers and Randy had gone the day
before, and we discussed our feelings later
Saturday night as they decorated their tree.
Most o f my acquaintances also went; one
worked as a monitor. Seeing the quilt and feel
ing what one felt were the main topics o f discus
sion in the Castro all weekend.
The quilt will now travel. It is scheduled for
Portland — the last stop on the tour — in July
1988. O ther cities include Philadelphia, New
York and Cincinnati. I think this quilt will
awaken the country to the reality of AIDS and
more importantly to the fact that it is not
“ T hem ” who are dying. It is our brothers,
sisters, husbands, children, mothers and fathers
who are dying.
Each panel was a pure token o f love. 100,000
people experienced the quilt.
E d ito r's note: Tadgh O'Shields (not his real
name) is a fo rm er resident o f Portland. Joel is
his lover; Hugh is a cousin who died o f AIDS.
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Just Out • 11 • April I988