In San Francisco’s Castro District, this year, Valentine’s Day is not just about loving the one you’re with–it is also about remembering those loved ones who have been lost, particularly those lost to HIV/AIDS.

gay_flag_lede.jpgIn San Francisco’s Castro District, this year, Valentine’s Day is not just about loving the one you’re with–it is also about remembering those loved ones who have been lost, particularly those lost to HIV/AIDS.

A free exhibition beginning Sunday will host 312 panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at five locations throughout the coming week. Each panel is 3 feet by 6 feet, and an individual block is composed of eight panels and measures 12 feet by 12 feet.

It is the largest showing of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the city since the NAMES Project Foundation–the quilt’s caretaker–closed its original Market Street location in 1999 and relocated to Atlanta the following year.

The majority of the quilt panels — 280 of them–will be on display at the former Tower Records store at 2278 Market St. But four other locations will display one block each, including the building that originally housed the quilt, 2362 Market St., now Catch restaurant.

The spot was also the first home for Under One Roof, a Castro store that donates profits to local HIV/AIDS groups. The organization’s executive director, Beth Feingold, said that the show aims to remind the community that the battle against the disease is not yet over.

“We wanted to do something big that would draw attention back to this critical issue and combat what we’re seeing as a decreasing concern about getting infected,” Feingold said.

According to the NAMES Project Foundation, what began in San Francisco almost 25 years ago as a single 3-foot-by-6-foot fabric panel has grown to a more than 54-ton tapestry with more than 47,000 panels remembering the names of those lost to HIV/AIDS.

NAMES Project co-founder Mike Smith, who now serves as executive director of the AIDS Emergency Fund, said the quilt has been a powerful educational tool.

“By revealing the humanity behind the statistics, the AIDS Memorial Quilt helps teach compassion, triumphs over taboo, stigma and phobia, and inspires individuals to take direct responsibility for their own well-being and that of their family, friends and community,” Smith said.

The moment when the statistics were first transformed into a memorial came in 1985, when San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones was organizing the annual candlelight march to honor San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, who had been assassinated seven years prior.

Jones had learned that more than 1,000 San Franciscans had succumbed to AIDS and asked marchers to write the names of those lost on placards to be carried in the march.

The placards, taped at the march’s end to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building, resembled a patchwork quilt.

Two years later, the NAMES project was formally organized and displayed the first quilt–which had 40 panels–from the mayor’s balcony at City Hall.

The main Market Street exhibit will be open to the public free of charge from noon to 8 p.m. this Sunday through President’s Day. The exhibit will open with an unfolding ceremony Sunday at noon, during which the names of those memorialized will be read aloud.

The event was organized by Under One Roof, the AIDS Emergency Fund and Petyr Kane, the owner of two Castro Street clothing stores, Citizen and Body. The other two blocks that are part of the show will be displayed at the Bank of America at 501 Castro St. and at Body, which is at 450 Castro St.

“We’re so grateful to all involved for their hard work in getting this event off the ground and hope the quilt will remind the community of the thousands of friends and loved ones we’ve lost through the years,” Feingold, of Under One Roof said.

“They are still, and will continue to be, dearly missed.”

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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