Remembering AIDS

(Julia Kittle-Kamp/YH Staff)

Frank Moore, SM ’76, graduated from Yale Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, as a double major in art and psychology. He was a painter and a muralist, creating paintings and drawings, and designing sets and costumes. His work was shown in the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New York Public Library. He died of AIDS-related complications in 2002. He was 48 years old.

Moore is just one of the approximately 450 Yale professors, students, alumni and staff who died of AIDS in the crisis of the 1980s and 90s. But there is currently no memorial remembering these men and women.

Christopher Glazek, BR ’07, founder of the Yale AIDS Memorial Project (YAMP), first became convinced of the need to memorialize Yale AIDS victims a few months after graduating from Yale. Glazek was at a funeral where multiple Yale alumni from the ’70s were reminiscing about their college experience. One alum began talking about Frank Gaines, YC ’75, a friend who had died from AIDS. Glazek was shocked to learn that Gaines was just one of hundreds of Yalies that had been lost to the AIDS crisis.

This discovery prompted Glazek to research the AIDS crisis, and the many lives it claimed. “The more I plunged into the history of the epidemic, the more I was shocked, and the more I became shocked at my own shock,” Glazek said. “How did I grow up in the United States as a gay man with only dim awareness that my direct predecessors endured a plague so pervasive that it bears comparison—in its decapitation of an entire culture—to the Holocaust?”

The idea of YAMP grew out of a discussion group he led with Elizabeth Gumport, BR ’07, in early 2011, in connection with the magazine n+1, where Glazek is a senior editor. The discussion group’s focus was on generating ideas for cultural interventions that went beyond articles or books, and it eventually led them to YAMP’s current model. Motivated by the discussion group, Glazek reached out to History department chair, professor of American Studies, and prominent scholar of LGBT history George Chauncey for help with realizing Glazek’s idea. In its final form, YAMP aims to honor Yalies who died from AIDS-related causes in the ’80s and ’90s through a print publication and an interactive website that provide a face to Yale’s AIDS victims. The publication, the Journal, was released in June 2012, and the website is set to launch in January 2013.

The Journal includes profiles of eight members of the Yale community who died from AIDS. It is comprised of four-page booklets, one for each victim, with a short biography focusing on their time at Yale, and reminiscences sent in by friends and loved ones. Each booklet unfolds to reveal a photo of the deceased, capturing a promising young individual lost to the AIDS epidemic.

“While the Yale AIDS Memorial Project will document the lives and celebrate the achievements of numerous well-known writers, artists, scholars, activists, and public officials, most of the people it will honor were too young to have made their mark on the world,” Chauncey writes in the June issue of the Journal. “But their deaths left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew and loved them, and with this project, we seek to preserve their memory.” Charles Gariepy, TD ’09, further stressed that YAMP hopes to reverse many of the negative perceptions of AIDS victims. “There was so much shame and stigma around this way of dying,” Gariepy said. “But the humanity is apparent in the way they’re remembered through family, friends, and classmates.”

One profile in the Journal is dedicated to John Wallace, PC ’82, an American Studies major and former member of Yale a capella group, The Spizzwinks(?). The booklet includes a haunting reflection on Wallace by his classmate, Bill Rubenstein, MC ’82. “Our senior year at Yale, John and I had been in an American Studies reading group together, and I sat across the seminar table mesmerized by his beauty…and now, not even a decade later, I was kneeling by his bedside scribbling his dying wishes,” Rubinstein writes. “John’s plight was emblematic of an era. He was also my friend, and I miss him.”

On Sat., Oct. 6, members of YAMP’s board of directors, including Board President and Chairman Richard Espinosa, BK ’10, held an information session for Yale students and alumni interested in volunteering with YAMP. I was the first to arrive, and found a decidedly laid-back atmosphere. The leaders of the project casually lounged and chatted. Once a group of interested Yale students had arrived—20 in all—the board members arranged the chairs in a circle and had us all go around, say our names, and then spell them backwards, before they began talking. “We genuinely enjoy each other’s company,” Espinosa said. “We eat snacks, we hang out. It doesn’t feel like work.”

The board members discussed the plans for the upcoming new website, which will feature around 25 profiles of deceased Yale students, alumni, professors and staff. Espinosa said that the website will make use of timelines, maps, and video and audio clips to both place each profile in a broader context. Further, Espinosa hopes that viewers will be invited to draw connections between profiles and get lost in the site.
According to Gariepy, this website is much more than just a memorial. YAMP’s board members feel that there is a dearth of information available to the general public about the AIDS crisis. The hope is that this memorial will do more than just honor those who died, but also educate readers on a largely unknown part of our country’s history. “We’re building a lot of this from scratch,” Gariepy told the group. “Right now, it’s not Google-able, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re bringing it to the fore. We don’t want AIDS to be below the fold.”

YAMP’s creators hope that the project will eventually spread beyond Yale. “We want to use Yale as a lens, but this is an exciting site for AIDS history,” Espinosa said at the meeting. “There’s this cool digital landscape we’re trying to traverse.” The group initially incorporated solely as the AIDS Memorial Project, with the hope that YAMP will serve as a model that other AIDS memorials can follow and make use of.

Perhaps the main difficulty YAMP must grapple with is that of memorializing an ongoing crisis. Although the AIDS crisis largely subsided in the United States with the discovery of protease inhibitors in 1996, AIDS continues to affect many U.S. citizens, while many African countries and other developing nations are still in the throes of a raging epidemic. The directors said that they hope that readers will begin to understand the severity of this disease through the stories of the Yalies remembered on the site. “The apocalyptic phase epidemic is far enough in the past that it’s worth now revisiting, but not so distant that the survivors are gone,” Glazek said. “An AIDS memory boom is inevitable—it’s already happening. I want YAMP to be a part of it and to
help shape it.”

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