By Morgan M. Hurley
Having lived as an adult during the ghastly time of the AIDS epidemic, I was very encouraged several years ago when Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the launch of an AIDS Memorial Task Force to ensure the creation of an AIDS Memorial.
I lost a very close friend to AIDS in San Diego after moving here in 1987, and remember the chaos, the fear and the isolation our community experienced in those dark days, so I have been eager to learn where the memorial might find its home.
As you will read in Ken Williams’ story starting on page 1, the current plan is to build the AIDS Memorial at an obscure location which, once developed, will be named Olive Street Park in Bankers Hill.
The proposed location is not only a bird-fly mile away from the soon-to-be restored Dr. Brad Truax House, but the location is tucked away among a residential neighborhood on a short, dead-end street that will be difficult to access by car or bus. In addition, the proposal includes playground equipment for children.
With all due respect to Assemblymember Todd Gloria, who as a city councilmember identified the plot of land, and the members of the AIDS Memorial Task Force, who are working to fund and support a place for the memorial, I am completely against this site.
This location does not offer accessibility; it does not offer a place for reflection; and it does not have a direct connection to the San Diego LGBT community.
People can argue the point, but we all know — whether we like it or not — that predominately, in America, AIDS has historically been a disease related to the LGBT community.
Nearly 8,000 San Diegans have died of AIDS to date. The largest percentage of transmissions — according to data from the County of San Diego in 2012 — were men having sex with men, at 75 percent. The other percentages are groupings of less than 10 percent, which include intravenous drug users, women, children, etc.
According to the California Department of Finance, Demographic Research Unit, 66 percent of reported AIDS cases statewide came from men having sex with men.
As a community, because of AIDS, we all experienced the discrimination and the forced isolation from a city that put fear and ignorance above the human condition. The war was all of ours, and those deaths were our deaths, first and foremost.
As such, the memorial belongs in Hillcrest, a neighborhood that was our battleground and is still our shared community; a neighborhood that has bounced back from that awful time and is open, accepting and welcoming to all.
Olive Street Park would not be any of those things.
There are many other options to consider but I wish to propose my own: Place the memorial in the median at the corner of Normal Street and Lincoln Avenue.
There are logical reasons for my proposal.
- The memorial would be in Hillcrest, home of our LGBTQ community.
- The plot to be developed would be anchored by Harvey Milk Street on one end.
- It would act as a figurative bookend to the current LGBT Pride Flag and monument, located at the corner of Normal Street and University Avenue, and act as the natural extension of the area used by our community as a gathering place.
- The location would have easy access to all: those on foot, bicycle, bus, car, etc., without causing disruption to a residential neighborhood.
- The memorial would not share its existence with a playground but would offer enough space to create a viable place of reflection.
- The Hillcrest Business Association has long called for the redevelopment of the Normal Street corridor between University Avenue and Washington Street. This location and the memorial itself could act as the perfect inspiration for architects and landscape architect designers to work together to create a fitting memorial and community space to replace the unsightly median that currently exists.
- Just like with the Pride Flag, various Hillcrest neighborhood and local LGBT organizations could supplement the fundraising efforts of the AIDS Memorial Task Force (think “Amazing High Heel Race”) and offset the costs the HBA would need to beautify this location in the neighborhood.
Thousands of San Diegans are still living with AIDS , many of whom survived the indescribable loss of a mass number of close friends and acquaintances. Many other residents, able to steer clear of the disease itself, also experienced the heartbreaking loss of dozens of friends. Hundreds of LGBT and straight volunteers at AIDS service organizations throughout the years have lost countless numbers of clients. Many more of us lost a friend or a family member to the insidious disease.
All of us described above — and all of those who we have lost — deserve a beautiful, accessible place of thought and reflection in our own neighborhood.
Let’s redirect the efforts and focus of the AIDS Memorial Task Force to the unkempt median that lies squarely between Harvey Milk Street and Lincoln Avenue.
—Morgan M. Hurley is the editor of Gay San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.