HIV/AIDS and The NAMES Project Quilt in the 80’s


Our family was invited to attend the Opening Reception of “A Visual Journey: From AIDS to Marriage Equality,” featuring the photography of Mark A. Lee, a friend of Paul and Terry’s, at the Indiana Historical Society, tonight, Thursday, October 8th. My brother, Paul Chase, is one of five people being honored as a member of the LGBT community who left their mark on Indianapolis.

Paul Indy's LGBT exhibit

No one was available to travel to Indy tonight.

On Monday during a phone conversation, almost at the exact same time, Mom and I told each other how much we wanted to attend the opening reception.

By Tuesday, we had booked a hotel room, and soon, Mom and I will be taking a road trip to Indianapolis. We can’t wait to see Terry. It’s been way too long since we last saw him. We’re going to the exhibit with him, and then having dinner with our adopted Indianapolis family (Paul and Terry’s friends) before heading back home Friday morning. I can’t wait.

After reading about the exhibit, I found a folder I’ve kept since 1988, prompting memories I want to share.


My brother came out to me during a phone conversation the week I graduated from high school.

I guess this would be good time to tell you this isn’t going to be one of my humorous stories. I didn’t know when to tell you, but thought you should know.

That’s pretty much what Paul told me on the phone, except I remember his exact words: I guess you know by now I’m gay. We both laughed as I said, “Yeah, I already knew that.” Then he cautioned me not to trip as I walked across the stage at the Ravinia Pavilion in Highland Park to receive my diploma, the same stage he and my sister had walked across years before. He told me that if I tripped, he would laugh loud enough for me to hear him. I knew that, too.

I often think back to that conversation just to be sure my memory is correct about the way I felt after he told me he was gay. And, it’s always the same, so I guess it must be true.

It didn’t matter to me one way or the other. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t a big secret in our house, either, for which I thank and admire my parents. It was 1979, after all. People didn’t talk about it. And, we didn’t announce it to everyone we knew. It was none of their business.

I do remember feeling happy, though because we all loved Terry, his “partner,” or “ special friend,” or whatever the PC word of the day was back then. (Yes, I just noticed it, too. My brother’s initials were PC.)

I was relieved, too, because no woman would ever have been good enough for Paul, and my fears of having to deal with some sister-in-law became abated.

But, the most important thing to me was being able to raise children who grew up with my sister and her husband, and my brother and his, for all intents and purposes, who they loved and who loved them. There were questions, and there were honest answers.

My brother often told us about a friend who spent the weekend at Paul and Terry’s house with her young son. On the ride home, her son said, “Mom, I think I figured out something about Paul and Terry.” She braced herself because she thought she was going to be asked a lot of questions about their relationship, and asked, “What did you figure out?” He said, “I think they’re vegetarians.”

I love hearing Terry tell the story of how he and Paul met while studying in the Indiana University Memorial Union. Terry said Paul kept looking at him and eventually came over to where Terry was sitting to say, “hi.” He told Terry he had to run to the bookstore and would be right back.

Terry thought he’d never see him again. But, as he always did, Paul kept his word and came back. And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that lasted for 40 years.

In the early 1980’s, I met someone who told me her brother was gay and had died of AIDS. Her parents told everyone their son had died in a car accident.

My brother spent the early 1980’s helping people with HIV/AIDS try to survive and live their lives as if they hadn’t been diagnosed. Ironically, and tragically, he died in a car accident in June, 2014.

When Paul and Terry lived in Chicago, I remember helping them at quilting bees making panels for The NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. I got to know their friends, and, sadly, eventually saw some of their friends’ names on panels for the Quilt.

Paul and I made a panel for someone who had died of AIDS who didn’t have anyone to make one in his memory. We chose his name from a long list. Some of the people on the list had either not told anyone, or had been disowned by their families.

I didn’t remember his name until I looked through the folder I found, but I’m sure Paul would have remembered. All we knew from his short bio was that he was a student in Texas who had always wanted to live in Hawaii.

We used donated supplies to draw and glue together a sunny beach, the ocean, and at least one palm tree with coconuts. We might have even put a monkey in the palm tree. I’m not sure, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities of something we would do. After all, the panels weren’t meant to be somber, although some were; they were meant to celebrate the lives of the people who lived them.

The panels made in Chicago were sent to San Francisco to be sewn into larger panels for the NAMES Project Quilt National Tour.

Names project book

According to the book, The Quilt, Stories From The NAMES Project, written in 1988, “The idea for the Project originated the night of November 27, 1985, when San Francisco activist Cleve Jones joined several thousand others in the annual candlelight march commemorating the (1978) murders of Mayor George Moscone and (San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official) Harvey Milk. As mourners passed by, they covered the walls of San Francisco’s old Federal Building with placards bearing the names of people who had died of AIDS.”

Wind and rain eventually tore the cardboard placards loose, but people stood and read the names for hours. The image of the placards waving in the wind looked like a quilt to Cleve Jones who is quoted as saying, “A quilt is the perfect symbol…What is a quilt? It is made collaboratively, made to to be used to provide comfort to those who are cold and sick.”

On October 27, 1987, an article written by Robert Atkins in “The Village Voice” described the inaugural display of the Quilt at the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. Atkins reported how eight volunteers unfolded 32 sections, each containing 60 three-by-six foot rectangular panels “double (the size of a) football field (!)” At that time, there were 1,920 names on panels made by loved ones and strangers who volunteered to make sure each person’s life was celebrated and remembered.

Names Project Ad

As part of the National Tour, the Quilt was coming to Navy Pier in Chicago July 9-11, 1988. Included were the panels made in Chicago. At the time, I worked as a copywriter at an advertising agency, and Paul asked me to create an ad for local newspapers and magazines. I did, with the help of a friend who was an art director at the same agency.

I saved the ad. I was proud of it. I was proud that he’d asked me to create it, and honored I was allowed to stand with so many other volunteers, dressed in white, wearing The NAMES Project pin, at Navy Pier as guardians of the display of the National Names Project Quilt Tour as it made its way back to Washington D.C.

Names project pin

On October 8th and 9th, 1988, the National Tour ended as The Quilt returned to Washington with more than 10,000 names on 3,464 panels sewn together. Panels continued to be sent to San Francisco, but could not be added in time for display.

NAMES Project Navy Pier scan

There is so much more I want to share with you about Paul and Terry. I always said they were the happiest married couple I knew. They couldn’t get married, though, until the day Paul died, June 25th, 2014, the day Indiana overturned the ban on gay marriage. He and Terry were going to get married the next day, and Terry still wears a wedding ring he’s worn for years.

Terry has sold the house they shared for 25 years. He was isolated on 16 acres of land. At first it was hard to imagine not being able to visit that house ever again. But, knowing how happy Terry will be living in a real neighborhood, close to his friends, renovating a house he truly loves, makes me happy, too.

The exhibit runs from October 10th through November 14th, 2015. You can read an article about it in the magazine “Nuvo,” here:

Something I found in the folder recalling just the beginning:


Cruel Summer


paulpic copy

At 7:30 P.M. last night, Wednesday, June 25th, 2014, everything I’ve ever believed in, hoped for, or placed my faith into was shattered.

I received a  phone call from Richard who had left for Florida at 3:00 A.M. with his brother, David, to help their parents move into a new condo.

When Richard called I had just returned home from the hardware store after having coffee with my friend, Alyson.


He told me to sit down, so I sat on the garage steps. He said that he had the most  horrible news to tell me. I asked him if my mother was okay. Was it my sister?

“No, it’s Paul,” he said.

“My brother? He’ll be okay, right?”

“No, he was killed in a car accident.”

I yelled at him that he was making it up. I told him he was lying. I told him it wasn’t true and  then I hung up. I ran into the house from the garage, up the stairs and back down again. I heard a sound that I had never heard before. It was coming from me.

My son Lucas and his friend, Robert, came running to find me to see what was wrong.

Without thinking, I repeated what Richard had just told me. I remember hearing Lucas smash something. I don’t know what it was, as if it even mattered. I didn’t care. He had every right to do whatever he needed to do at the moment.

Robert left just as Veronica walked in with her boyfriend, Aaron. Richard had called her, too, even though I didn’t want him to because she’d have to drive home after hearing about her Uncle Paul.

Feeling guilty for not being able to comfort my own children, I ran outside. I heard that sound again. It was otherworldly; a combination of a wail, a scream, a cry, and a moan. I fell to my knees and asked God how he could take away my father and now my brother in less than three weeks.

Not that it made it any easier for us, but my 82-year-old father had become handicapped over the years.The lung cancer he had only recently been diagnosed with was shrinking, and we went out to celebrate his clean CT scans. Then, on Friday, June 6th, 2014, his heart suddenly gave out as he walked into the house with my Mother, looking forward to eating the Burger King and Duncan Donuts they had just bought.

But my brother? He was 58. He had a great life. He was in love with Terry, his life-partner of  38 years. Paul was the favorite child. Terry is #2.

Paul deserved to be the favorite child. He was perfect. He was gorgeous. He could grow an afro that defied gravity, and a garden that came alive in perfect harmony. He was smart, helpful, humble, caring, generous, creative and talented in so many ways, and had a soothing voice that instantly made me feel safe from the moment I was born.

My mother referred to Paul as a “Professional Do-Gooder” because he gave up being a partner in my father’s law practice in Chicago to lobby on behalf of non-profit organizations, such as groups that supported people living with HIV/AIDS,  AARP,  and, most recently, Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, to improve healthcare access for everyone.

Just last Sunday (four days ago) he had driven here from Nashville, Indiana. We knew he could only stay one night because he had a conference in Indianapolis early Tuesday morning, but he came to go over a few legal matters with my mother.

When he arrived, he went with Beth, Sam, my Mother, and me to the cemetery to visit my father. I wasn’t sure I was ready to go to the cemetery so soon after burying my father, but knowing Paul would be there gave me the confidence to get through it. It wasn’t easy, but it ended up being comforting.

I don’t know why I didn’t get to say goodbye to Paul on Monday, like I usually do. He said he had sent me a text so I could come over to Mom’s to say good-bye, but I never received it. It was okay because we both knew we’d see each other again soon. He said he’d be coming into town more often now that Dad was gone, plus my mother and I were planning the first of many road-trips to visit Paul and Terry.

Two days later I was on my knees, that sound involuntarily bellowing out of me, as I screamed, “No! This can’t true.” I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and turned to see my friend Rosa. Richard had asked her to come to the house to stay with me for a while.

When I saw her, no matter how many times I said it couldn’t be true, she told me it was. Her husband, Art, and their son, Noah came and embraced me, too.

Eventually, I knew it was true. I had just recently begun to get the images of my father’s body in the hospital and in his casket out of my brain when images of my brother started to flood my imagination. A car accident? The images were too horrific for me to let them take over. I didn’t even know what had actually happened.

We came back into the house from the yard. My sister and brother-in-law, Sam, arrived. Our friend Steve, who Richard had called, walked in, grabbed me and held me.

Terry had called Beth to tell her, and then Richard, poor Richard, to tell him. Everyone in our family knows that Richard is the best messenger.

But, Mom didn’t know, and Richard wasn’t here to tell her. After nearly three weeks of trying to get used to living alone, she had finally decided to go out to dinner with friends.

There’s a Jewish saying that bad things happen in threes. My sister and I were sure my mother would collapse and die the moment she found out about Paul, so Beth called Mom’s doctor to ask for advice. I suggested Mom be placed into a medically-induced coma; a good reason I should never become a doctor and stick to my day job as a writer.

Art, who is a doctor, and Sam, who is a gentle soul and whom my mother adores, were elected as the most competent to go to the house to tell my mother. The rest of us waited to see what Mom wanted us to do. I thought she might want to come to our house, to get away from her house for the night, but she asked that Beth and I go to her house. Lucas insisted on coming with us.

Between the three of us, the sound of the loss of my brother was perverse and scary. Lucas waited patiently for Beth and me to release our Mother, and then wrapped her safely in his arms.

The howls of grief escaping from my sister and mother began to make me shake. I felt dizzy. I needed to go home. Rosa, who had stayed with Veronica, Aaron and Noah came to my Mom’s house to pick up Art, Lucas and me.

Veronica went to sleep in her room. Lucas and I slept in the living room with the dogs. Richard flew in this morning. He had offered to fly to Indianapolis, and then drive to get Terry in Nashville and bring him here, but Terry didn’t want him to do that. He wanted to drive here. We thought Terry was going to drive alone, so we were relieved when he said his friend, Rhea, was coming with him. So here we are. At my mother’s house, waiting for them.

I’ve always believed in a being greater than me. I always thought things happened for a reason; that is until 7:30 last night.There cannot be a reason, or even an explanation, for my brother to have been killed.

My mother said last night that we’ll never recover from this. I think she’s right. It’s just us girls, now, and our wonderful husbands and kids, but our family of five has been ripped apart within the span of less than three weeks. There just can’t be a purpose for that.

Please understand if my writing is sporadic for a while.

Thank you,


Please read these beautifully written tributes about my brother, Paul:

“At a Loss for Words About a Loss” by Sheila Kennedy


“Kindness Wins” Opinion piece by Dr. Quigley, Clinical Professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis

“Paul Chase Accomplished Much for Indiana”