Today’s controversial AIDS Memorial actually happened decades ago. It was 1994 when a location was first chosen in Balboa Park. It was before protease inhibitors. There was no cure. The battle wasn’t over.
I was a 42, gay white male living in the Gay district of San Diego (Hillcrest) and infected with the deadly virus HIV/AIDS. It was the Gay Plague.
The darkness of those never changing, sad years was made up of misery, despair and desperation. Hope was overshadowed by moments of anger as rushed hospital visits and memorials were blurring into one another. Stigma, isolation and denial ran strong. I couldn’t even say the word.
The proposed project was quite emotional and political. What started out as a simple “park bench” from our gay leaders grew into a grandiose $300,000 (and still climbing) controversial AIDS memorial.
The design was to have huge, petrified “dead trees” with yards and yards of concrete to walk on and reflect as the dead trees were to represent the fallen victims of AIDS.
The location was at Quince Street and Balboa Drive…also known as “speedo beach”. Five acres of one of the most beautiful open spaces of the park.
The memorial task force consisted of newly elected openly gay Councilmember Christine Kehoe. She was popular and a welcomed Democrat who represented both Hillcrest and Balboa Park. Nicole Murray, a man, was appointed to Republican Mayor Susan Golding’s Gay and Lesbian Advisory Board. Tony Zampella was President of the Republican Log Cabin Club. Republican State Assemblyman Jeff Marston and Ben Dillingham who once served under Democrat Mayor Maureen O’Connor.
As months went by, the project became more flawed and the task force renamed it the “living aids memorial” then “railroaded” it to City Council for a final vote.
There was opposition.
Act Up (Coalition to Unleash Power) protested, “don’t bury us, we’re not dead yet”. “The money could be used for services and for HIV/AIDS Prevention”. They passed a resolution “No AIDS Memorial until a Cure is Found”.
Councilmember Judy McCarty opinions represented those who didn’t want “disease” memorials in city parks. Publisher, Michael Portatino, of the well circulated Gay and Lesbian Times and also known as a “shaker and mover” disapproved of the City’s gay project. The San Diego Democratic Club, a strong voice in the community weighed in on the political matter and voting “No” to supporting the memorial.
Councilmember Kehoe eventually reversed her decision, voting against the memorial.
The Mayor and entire City Council “shot down” the 1994 controversial Balboa Park AIDS Memorial. It was dead and HIV/AIDS wasn’t …it was such a long time ago.
Rick Wilson, Hillcrest, Silence=Death