This quilt commemorates one of the biggest tragedies in LGBTQ+ history

Decades on from the height of the Aids crisis, loved ones have ensured that the memories of those who died will never be forgotten.

The Aids Quilt Project is a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives to Aids-related illnesses in the 80s and 90s, helping to raise awareness and keep their memories alive.

But what exactly is the quilt?

The memorial quilt is an ongoing community project made up of 48,000 panels, each remembering a person who died from Aids-related complications.

Activists began sewing it in 1987 as a way of remembering their friends, many of whom didn’t get proper funerals or memorials services because of the stigma surrounding HIV and Aids.

Activist Cleve Jones – who worked as an intern for gay politician Harvey Milk – was reportedly the one who came up with the idea for the quilt in 1985.

At a candlelit vigil for the slain Milk, he asked friends to write the name of their dead loved ones on placards, and this sparked the concept of turning those into patches that could be sewn into a type of huge blanket.

“We in the LGBT community understood what was happening in the early 80s,” Jones said. “We had to create systems of care and support ourselves.”

Among the famous and not-so-famous names on the 54-ton quilt are those of Freddie Mercury, Rock Hudson and disco legend Sylvester.

The project has continued to evolve, with unused portions of the quilt being used to make COVID-19 masks in 2020.

A UK version of the quilt was digitised in 2023 to “ensure those lost in the darkest days of the HIV epidemic are never forgotten”.

Terry Higgins, the first named person to die of an Aids-related illness in the UK – and the inspiration for the Terrence Higgins Trust charity – had a quilt made in his memory, which was also digitised.

“It is a fittingly stunning tribute to Terry as a friend, lover, Welshman, gay man [and] activist,” Richard Angell, the chief executive of the charity, told Gay Times.

To learn more about HIV and Aids research, testing and treatment, visitt amfar or the Terrence Higgins Trust.

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