I've been wanting to write about my memorial ribbons. They are currently 24 ribbons in eight colors arranged in rainbow order on a short length of cord so they can easily hang from the back of my cycling helmet. The original idea, back in 2003, was to fasten them to a fiberglass mast to make a ribbon rainbow flag and mount the whole thing on the back of my bicycle, but that turned out to be cumbersome and dangerous. So now they hang from my helmet and, when the wind is right, stream prettily.

Each ribbon is inscribed with the name of someone lost to AIDS. Because they're given to me by people I know, and I live on the west coast of North America, they all happen to be the names of white males. Most of them died between the ages of 20 and 50. One died while still a child; he got HIV from a blood transfusion. The rest, I believe, caught it in the stereotypical way, by being gay and careless in the first decade or two after Stonewall.

Two of them are people I knew. Ted Flath was the director of the California Bach Society when I first started singing with it, back in 1979. He was a brilliant, difficult, passionate choral conductor, and he doesn't need me to polish his reputation. Singing the German Requiem and the St. Matthew Passion under his baton were near-religious experiences.

E "Lew S" Carroll was a smaller fish, but no less colorful. He was on the administrative staff at the UC Extension San Francisco Center, not far from the Castro. As what they called a "program assistant," he did the grunt work of producing classes in Letters & Science. There were two kinds of PAs: clerical drones who got things more than half right for a couple of years and then went on to better-paying jobs, and the ones who stayed with the program for a decade or so and got really good at it, good enough to put their own stamp on it. E was that kind. He was the type specimen for "If you're not having fun, you're not in the right job."

The rest are friends of friends -- in one case, the brother of a friend -- and I know practically nothing about them. But I want to mention three of the unknowns: Andrew, Bruce, and Roger. I wasn't given their last names, because their deaths -- or their lives, or one aspect of their lives -- must remain forever secret. Do even their families know what they died of? I don't know. I know that every effort was made to keep them closeted even in death.

That's one reason why I'm riding. Being able to do it at all is wonderful, and raising money to fight HIV and AIDS is a great thing; but on top of that is the stand we riders and roadies take against homophobia. To live in a world without AIDS would be great, but it seems to be difficult, the virus is so wily; to live in a world where anyone, living or dead, can be openly queer and not get harassed or beaten or hushed up -- damn it, that's easy, people just have to stop hating and fearing each other. We could do it right now.

So I like to get out there with a bunch of people, some as ordinary as I am, some flamingly queer, and first of all show the one or two queer kids in Lompoc or San Miguel or Guadelupe that they're not freaks, they're not alone, not everyone hates them; and second, show the local haters what idiots they're being; and third, encourage the locals who aren't haters.

It's so easy. You show people a little tolerance, a little respect, and they show it right back, usually. It's a much prettier world that way.


I didn't write this to get people to donate -- really! -- but if you want to, here's the link: http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/JohnKelly


Gan Ainm

September 2010

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