The AIDS Memorial on Instagram is a beautiful, valuable, and growing collection of stories of those loved and lost to the epidemic. It is self-described as such:
Preserving the Legacy of the AIDS Epidemic.
Stories of Love, Loss & Remembrance.
Silence Equals Death.
I was honored to contribute my father’s story below to the Memorial on April 3, 2017, edited slightly here:
My closeted father was born in 1918. He’d long been living a double life in San Francisco when the first signs of the epidemic emerged. He never contracted AIDS. But I remember the day he first spoke to me about a strange disease afflicting his gay brothers.
It was the early 1980s and my dad was working in the Financial District. Since I was one of the few people he’d come out to, I became the keeper of his stories, including this one during that particularly cruel time in America.
My dad wasn’t always closeted. In his early twenties, he lived openly in Pasadena while attending college. But an LAPD anti-gay sting operation and arrest in 1940 sent him back into the closet forever, and to WWII and my mother and the four of us kids.
We were in the garden of the family home on the Peninsula, away from open windows, when he described the purple spots on the back of someone he knew named Bill. The next month a few more exhibited the same symptoms. Then it snowballed.
“They’re calling it ‘the gay cancer,’ honey,” he said. I stared wide-eyed at him, at my gay father talking about a gay cancer afflicting his gay friends.
By the mid-1980s, when it was clear there would be no federal assistance for the sufferers, Dad volunteered to be an “AIDS Buddy” with the Shanti Project.
“There’s nothing I can do but hold their hands,” he told me. “There’s no cure.”
Many of the ailing young men had arrived in San Francisco from other parts of the country, from communities and families who’d rejected them. I recall the confusion I felt at the seeming incongruence of my father’s heartbreaking stories and the look of deep peace and love on his face as he described his visits.
It didn’t make sense to me, though eventually I’d come to see that he’d found a calling of sorts. After the shame of spending a lifetime in the closet, he could now give his heart openly to the dying gay men, many of whom had been discarded, some all alone.
My father would live to be 90, outliving almost an entire generation of gay men younger than himself. I’d like to think that those whose hands he held in their final hours felt his unconditional love and kindness for them, and perhaps glimpsed the gift they gave him, the gift of being himself in those darkest of days.
OUT Magazine published an article about the AIDS Memorial on 2/2/2017, titled, The Creator of Instagram’s AIDS Memorial On How Donald Trump Needs a History Lesson.