Friday, August 31, 2018

Storyteller to share heartfelt stories of those who died during the AIDS epidemic and those who loved them by Lorraine Glowczak

AIDS quilt at the Mall in Washington D.C.
Ashamed, dying alone and forgotten was the unfortunate experience of many who contracted AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) across the U.S. and internationally during the 1980s and early 90s. Although we have a long way to go as a society regarding acceptance of complicated issues we don’t completely understand; thanks to advocacy, education and medical intervention, life has changed for the better among many people who are now diagnosed with AIDS.

Endless stories are available to be told and shared in order to remember and honor a group of individuals who were often separated and shamed by their families. Author/quilt maker/storyteller, Deborah Freedman from Portland will be available on Monday, September 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Windham Hill United Church of Christ, 140 Windham Center Road to share some of the stories she has accumulated over the years from her volunteer efforts on the NAMES Project of the AIDS Memorial Quilt for Maine.

The awareness surrounding AIDS began in the 1980s. According to the website, “Though HIV [human immunodeficiency virus, a virus that can lead to AIDS) arrived in the United States around 1970, it didn’t come to the public’s attention until the early 1980s.”

#EvergreenCreditUnionThe website also noted that though the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) discovered all major routes of the disease’s transmission, the public considered AIDS a gay disease. It was even called the “gay plague” for many years after.” It wasn’t until 1991 when a famous heterosexual basketball player, Magic Johnson announced he had HIV, helping to further bring awareness to the issue and
dispel the stereotype of it being a gay disease.

But for the men with AIDS during the 1980s, many were typecast and thus shunned by their families through misunderstanding and embarrassment. As a result, the NAMES Project/AIDS Quilt was born to remember the lives of many and their stories.

Although the NAMES Project/AIDS Quilt began as a political activist endeavor, “by tapping into the word ‘quilt’, the separation and shame surrounding the disease broke the isolation,” stated Freedman in a recent interview.

The concept of the NAMES Project/AIDS Quilt was the brainchild of Cleve Jones, a friend and mentor of Harvey Milk. Milk was a well-known politician who was gay and running for mayor of San Francisco in 1978. He was assassinated as a result of his sexual orientation.

The quilt began spontaneously during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 1985 when Jones asked people to join him by writing a name of an individual who had died of AIDS on placards. At the end of the march, Jones and others stood on ladders taping these placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. The wall of names looked like a patchwork quilt. Inspired by this sight, Jones and friends made plans for a larger memorial. A little over a year later, he created the first panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. In June of 1987, the NAMES Project Foundation was established, and national public response was immediate.
The book will be available for sell

On October 11, 1987, the Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington,
D.C., during the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It covered a space larger than a football field and included 1,920 panels. Half a million people visited the Quilt that weekend.

So, how did Freedman from Portland, Maine become involved and head the Quilt Project for the State of Maine?

 “I love to make quilts,” she began. “In the early 80s, a woman in Portland by the name of Frannie Peabody had a grandson who was diagnosed and died of AIDS. In his honor, she started a non-profit called the AIDS Project. This had no correlation with the NAMES project and the AIDS quilt. In fact, I had never heard of the AIDS Quilt. The Portland’s AIDS Project was having a fundraiser, so I decided to donate one of my quilts for them to sell. As I was walking into the office with my donation, an individual noticed what I was carrying and yelled across the room to ask me, ‘Are you a quilter?” When I replied yes, they asked me to help with the AIDS Quilt project. That day in my life turned on a dime and changed my life forever.”

She traveled to San Francisco, met Jones and spent numerous days hearing stories from people whose loved ones had passed, creating a panel in their honor. The quilt she helped to create while in San Francisco traveled to D.C. and was part of the display at the Mall in D.C.

Freedman lead the NAMES project/AIDS quilt cause in Maine, capturing the stories of those who passed away here in the state. The quilt has grown and continues to travel to schools and libraries throughout Maine.

When the quilt started making its rounds to schools, libraries and other events, Freedman began to realize she needed to share the story of each panel. “I noticed that students and other individuals were looking at the quilts, but they didn’t know the stories behind them,” Freedman explained. “So, for each panel, I told the stories as students and others looked on. I began to realize the stories made an impact, made it real and opened the hearts of those who did not understand. That’s how the storytelling part of the quilt began.”
Freedman told one of the latest stories of the quilt when asked if she believed perceptions surrounding AIDS and sexual orientation was beginning to change. She believes for the most part, it
has. But not completely.

“About two years ago,” Freedman began. “A quilt was on display at the Limerick Library. A woman from another town found out the quilt was at that library and wondered if her husband’s panel was on display there. After a few detailed discussions, we discovered that her husband’s quilt – and story – was on display in Limerick, Maine. ‘I’m so glad to know that his story is still being told,’ she emailed me. I told her that we would be happy to bring that very quilt to a library near her. ‘Oh, no!’ she said to me. ‘It is much too soon.’ With that conversation, I realized we still have a long way to go.”

For an informative, thought provoking and healing story telling adventure, be sure to catch Freedman and four other story tellers on Monday, September 10th.

If you are unable to make this event and hear the many stories she has to share, have Freeman and the rest of the Storyspell crew at your next event. Contact Freedman at
Freeman will also have her book, “The Quiet Triumphant of the Heart” available for sale at the free event at Windham Hill United Church of Christ.

added "and those who loved them" [DF1]

I put "sell" for "sale" [DF2]

where you put "patchwork" I put "panel" [DF3]

I would leave out the town, Presque Isle" from the Limerick Library story [DF4]

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