To speak to Gert McMullen about the origins of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is to go back to a scary, sad time in LGBTQ history: San Francisco in the early 1980s.
“People were terrified,” she explains, “because they didn’t know what was happening. People were just dying. They were trying to figure out, why were these gay men dying?”
Gert lost many of her friends in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and thanks to the fear and stigma surrounding the disease, she was often their only visitor.
“You would go into the hospitals and there was nobody there, and the nurses would put you in a moon suit, basically, to walk in there, because they didn’t know what was going to happen,” she recalls.
No one understood how the disease was transmitted, so many people were afraid to come into close contact with their afflicted loved ones – even during their final days.
“I remember a friend of mine who was so lonely and I just kind of touched him, and he just went, ‘Oh my god, it’s been so long since somebody even touched me.’”
Witnessing all this sparked Gert’s involvement in LGBTQ activism – involvement which continues today. She began work on the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the 80s and is now its caretaker, taking it on tours so people can see it in person.
Twenty panels of the quilt will be on display as part of the 20th Anniversary Louisville AIDS Walk on October 13th. We’ll talk more about the walk as it gets closer, but this week we speak to Gert about the quilt itself, and the evolution of AIDS-related activism.
In our Juicy Fruit segment, we talk about the Charlotte, NC police shooting of Jonathan Ferrell, who was unarmed and running to them for help after a car accident.
We also take a look at the racism that erupted online when Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America. And we celebrate Queen Latifah’s new talk show but wonder why so many folks involved in its debut are widely-rumored to be gay.