An initiative to commemorate the lives of those who died during the early years of the AIDS epidemic is being spearheaded by recent Yale University alumni who hope to make it a model for other universities and institutions. It’s the latest example of young gay and bisexual men honoring the lives of many gay men of the previous generation who died during the darkest days of AIDS.
“We want to get institutions to mount these kind of projects to recall those who are lost,” said Christopher Glazek, a recent Yale graduate (’07) who founded the Yale AIDS Memorial Project (YAMP). The staff at YAMP include mostly recent alumni like him, he said, though advisors to the project include the historian, Yale professor and 1977 Yale graduate George Chauncey, and the award-winning AIDS reporter Mark Schoofs, who graduated from Yale in 1985.
“What we’re doing with the Yale Project,” Glazek explained in an interview on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ, “is we’re hoping to lay the foundation and get up the infrastructure, and we want to make our digital platform available to other schools and others institutions, churches, theater companies, whatever.”
YAMP has raised $50,000 so far and created its first component of several, a journal that focuses on alumni and staff who died due to AIDS-related causes. Glazek described how he had little awareness of the epidemic even while in college. It wasn’t until he heard various discussions in the past couple of years among older people about gay men who’d died in years past that he began researching it further.
“That kind of got me down this rabbit hole, going through all this AIDS history stuff, although very recent and kind of very vivid for people who are just a bit older than me,” he explained. “Stuff that I had never been exposed to before, the history of ACT UP, how the epidemic unfolded, stuff I had never looked into before.”
“I was born in 1985,” he continued. “When protease inhibitor cocktails [the first drugs to slow the progression of HIV] came out in 1996, I was 11. AIDS didn’t figure in my middle and upper school health curriculum even the way it did for these who were just three years older than me. My class was the first class that was kind of, in a way, post-epidemic.”
YAMP, which was recently featured in a New York Times article, is just one example of projects in which younger gay men are commemorating those who were lost. In New York City, a project has been underway to create an AIDS Memorial Park, led by urban planners Christopher Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, who’ve similarly talked about looking back at history and desiring to honor those of the previous generation who died.
"It is historical for young people,” Glazek said about the interest in the early AIDS era, including two films out this year about the activist group ACT UP, "United in Anger" and "How to Survive a Plague." “It’s increasingly an object of intense fascination, particularly for young people. There’s something -- and I don’t know how older gays would feel about this [laughter] -- there’s something definitely compelling, almost glamourous, about AIDS culture and the AIDS era, and this really is an example of a gay community that really accomplished something and came together. And to be perfectly frank, I think for a lot of young gays with a more radical orientation, the gay marriage movement is something that seems less exciting.”
Listen to the full interview here: