A public display and memorial ceremony will commemorate the lives of those who died early in Philadelphia’s AIDS crisis, as the William Way LGBT Community Center wraps up its “Remembrance” project later this month.
“Gone and For Ever” is a public memorial which will be exhibited at the Center from Tuesday June 21 to Saturday June 25. Designed by artist Alex Stadler, the exhibit is intended to provide a true memorial to Philadelphians who are at risk of being forgotten by history.
On June 25, Stadler will lead a memorial procession and march through the city of Philadelphia as part of the exhibit. The march will start at the Center and will end at the Saint-Luc et l’Épiphanie church. The exhibit will be open to the public this week, and those who want to learn more about Project Remembrance and the early HIV/AIDS crisis in Philadelphia are encouraged to visit.
“I think of ‘Gone and For Ever’ as a small repair of the social fabric of the past,” Stadler said. “Although this project was conceived before COVID, the current pandemic underscores the need for compassion when a society faces widespread illness, including the ongoing impact of AIDS.”
In September 1981, Philadelphia documented its first case of what became known as HIV/AIDS. In the years and decades since, thousands of Philadelphians have died from the virus, which continues to impact communities in Philadelphia, across the country and around the world.
The William Way LGBT Community Center launched its “Remembrance” project as an alternative, multidisciplinary Memorial to Philadelphians who have died or been affected by the AIDS crisis.
“It may be hard for some to remember, but there was a time in our city when a gay man who died of AIDS couldn’t even be buried with dignity,” he added. said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way Center, at the official launch of “Remembrance” in May. “Remembrance is inspired by the story of a South Philadelphia funeral parlor, Ron Pirelli. It was through Ron’s bravery at the start of the AIDS crisis that Philadelphians who died of AIDS were able to receive loving funerals and caring at a time when the overwhelming majority of funeral homes have dismissed AIDS deaths. It is truly fitting that we honor his courage and their life by finally giving them the citywide recognition that ‘they deserve.
The project began in 2020 with a series of community listening sessions across the city. The listening sessions contributed to the William Way Center’s ongoing AIDS Oral History Project. Activist Waheedah Shabazz-El hosted over 40 listening sessions, the majority of which were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the listening sessions – which ended in December 2021 – the William Way Center hosted performances of “These Don’t Easy Scatter”, a play written by Ain Gordon as part of the Remembrance project. The play ran from May 20-22, featuring archival material and resources from the listening sessions.
Stadler said Philadelphia Gay News that he decided to create “Gone and For Ever” as the first way for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community to mourn the lives of those who died in the early years of the AIDS crisis and absorb the facts of this era of history. He wants the memorial and exhibit to be a celebration of life.
Urns will contain ashes made from pieces of paper burned with the names of people who died of HIV/AIDS in the city. Those who would like their loved one’s name included in the memorial can contact Stadler at instagram before the ceremony.
“AIDS is a very painful disease, which is why I have always believed that no one should be turned away”, said Ron Piselli, director of The Funeral Chapel in Philadelphia. “People with AIDS, their deaths, their funerals, and the reactions of their family and friends are an important part of our city’s history and can lead us to learn from so much loss and fight for no one be forgotten.”
After the commemorative ceremony of “leaving” on June 25, the “Souvenir” project will be published online in time for World AIDS Day on December 1. The online database will include information from the Center’s Philadelphia AIDS Oral History Project, Shabazz-El community sessions, and additional archival material.