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December 15, 2009

An AIDS Memorial for the Digital Age

A new website, The Gay History Wiki, memorializes gay men lost to AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, The New York Times reports.

“There is a real hunger for information about this period, this history and these lost lives,” said Chris Bartlett, the site’s creator. His site,, features Wikipedia-esque information about gay culture, history and events of Philadelphia between 1960 and today. Included in the site are profiles of gay men from that area who died of AIDS-related illnesses. The site is free, and anyone can join and add information. It also includes an “Outside Philadelphia” page.

“At this point, everybody knows the value of participating in a social network,” Bartlett said. “I’m making the case that the value people offer to a social network does not disappear when they die.”

While many LGBT and HIV advocates applaud such efforts, some, including the Rev. Paul Raushenbush, associate dean of religious life at Princeton University in New Jersey, wonder if these pages properly honor the dead.

“The positive side of this effort seems to be to bring the lost back into the community of the living and to honor them,” said Raushenbush, who is gay. “However, it is one thing to be remembered and another to be re-created. Does it honor their lives to bequeath their personalities to a two-dimensional characterization on the Internet?”

The website was inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust memorial. While there are many AIDS memorials throughout the United States and the world—including the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco—large-scale commemorations are less common now, when treatment advances have transformed HIV from a death sentenced to a more manageable, chronic condition.

“There is absolutely no permanent social marker of the hundreds of thousands who died of AIDS in this country,” said Sarah Schulman, a writer and a director of the ACT UP Oral History Project, which began seven years ago to assemble testimonies from surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), New York. “There’s not even a postage stamp.”

Search: Gay History Wiki, Philadelphia, Wikipedia, LGBT, Chris Bartlett, ACT UP, ACT UP Oral History Project

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