Stitching together the past and present

Prism creates a quilt to commemorate those impacted by the AIDS epidemic 

The Prism executive board hopes the quilt will grow over coming years. PHOTOS BY KALAN K. BIRNIE/FOGHORN

To commemorate World AIDS Day, which takes place on Dec. 1, USF’s on-campus LGBTQ+ organization, Prism, designed a quilt similar to that of the national AIDS memorial quilt. Since its founding in 1988, World AIDS Day has been used to remember and reflect on the epidemic that, according to, still affects over 36.9 million people worldwide.

Inspired by quilts they saw at the Jewish Community Center, Prism President Eli Ramos and Social Chair Ezra Buck began the process of designing the quilt last October. Members of the club could submit ideas to the executive board to be turned to designs or could design their own panels. 

The quilt, which now consists of 13 panels, was then sewed together by Ramos. 

“It was a matter of thinking about what’s important to us in portraying this in how we want to design it,” Ramos said. “The hope is that every year, we would continue to add designs to it like the original AIDS quilt. It’s not just a tribute to a snapshot in history, but instead it will continue to grow into a legacy.”

“The issues that we’re putting up on the quilt are things that are not just connecting us to the history of AIDS but also to the current real problems that we are facing in our community,” said Ramos. “To me the most important part of the quilt is bridging between past and present.” 

For Buck, the quilt holds special meaning, as it is a tribute to a history he identifies with but many do not know much about.

“We lost an entire generation, culture, and history. It has fractured the gay and bisexual men’s community in a way that we still have not been able to deeply understand,” Buck said. “We’re trying to pick up the scraps of what little written history we have to try to inform our identities.” 

Prism Vice President Audrey Pham sees the quilt as an opportunity to honor a lost generation.

“When it comes to AIDS, it’s not talked about as much as it should be. Our gay elders who have died from AIDS never really had a voice, but they played such a huge part in the revolution,” Pham said. “I think it’s a way to give them a voice and acknowledge their existence and their fight for us.”

Another story Prism wanted emphasize is that of lesbian nurses during the AIDS epidemic. Yanash Gardner, Prism’s outreach chair, believes the story of these women’s work during the epidemic is not well known, but should be told and included in the commemorative quilt.

“A lot of lesbians ended up nursing the gay and bisexual men who were dying. On that end, we have a lot of elders who saw their close friends in the community die and that was traumatizing,” Gardner said. “It’s not talked about or realized. So, we have squares just thanking the older lesbians who were there nursing these men and trying to help keep a community together.” 

As another act of connecting past and present, Prism is also working to collaborate with the photography club to create a photo gallery with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) activists to create modern-day recreations. As of now, this project is still in its early stages.

“We want to have people who feel strongly about these issues participate in an artistic project that is talking about not just the history but the present-day challenges that the community faces,” Ramos said. “We’re trying to do recreations of those photos and what they mean in a modern-day lens as to what big issues still affect us.”

For the executive board of Prism, this project is seen as one that links them to their community and its history. They hope that, in the future, they will be able to display the quilt somewhere that is easily accessible and viewable to be able to continuously be built upon.

“Space is limited. That’s one of the problems here on campus. It needs to be easily accessible for people who want to add to it,” said Ramos. 

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