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Blocks from Aids Memorial Quilt displayed at Potsdam High School

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POTSDAM - Liberace, Eazy E, Tom Fogerty and others were all remembered Tuesday at Potsdam High School as four panels of the AIDS Memorial quilt were on display courtesy of the school’s Gay, Straight Alliance.

GSA Faculty Advisor Theresa Witmer said the club decided to bring the quilt back in order to share the experience it presents with more of the district’s students.

“The power that we experienced last year was something I thought we should share with more students,” she said.

Also, displaying panels again brought different pieces of the quilt, which in its entirety contains more than 64,000 panels, to Potsdam. With each of those panels containing eight blocks in memory of someone who has lost their life to either AIDS or HIV.

Other, lesser known celebrities, remembered on the panels were musicians Ray Gillen of Black Sabbath and Black Randy of Black Randy and the Metro Squad, as well as actors Irving Allen Lee and Richard Aviles.

The panels on display also included several non-celebrities included Robert Rayford, who was 15 when he died from AIDS in 1969, although it wouldn’t be until 1987 when tissues from his body were examined.

Highlighting Robert’s panel, Ms. Witmer described to students viewing the panels what he had gone through.

“His legs and genitals were covered in warts and sores. He also had severe swelling of the testicles and pelvic region. He had grown thin and pale and suffered from shortness of breath,” she said. “It was the 1960s, the doctors didn’t know.”

His panel also notes that Robert is believed to be the first victim of AIDS in North America.

While most people are aware that HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through sharing needles or unprotected sexual contact, another of the panels highlighted another of the ways one can contract the virus.

A young boy represented on one of the panels was born with the virus, as his mother, who died shortly after his birth was infected at the time.

“Every year on her birthday he released balloons to heaven and told her he would be joining her soon,” Ms. Witmer said.

GSA Undersecretary Gwyneth Heuser, who led a presentation to students as they came in to view to quilt, said, “He was born with it and pretty much spent his whole life knowing he was going to die.”

Ms. Heuser said the thing that stands out to her about the quilts is how personable each of the squares are.

“It really shows how much the person who made them care for the person they made them for,” she said. “Most of the time you can’t really tell what they mean, because there is just random quotes and stuff, but you can see they were loved by whoever made the square.”

As part of Ms. Heuser’s presentation, she noted there are 1.7 million people living with AIDS, with a new infection every 9.5 minutes.

“I think it does need more attention,” she said referring to HIV/AIDS. “I think there are some people who have forgotten about it. It’s certainly not talked about as much as it used to be.”

Making matters worse for her, she said, is the group most affected by the virus are people ages 13-24.

“I think it should be talked about more, especially with young people, who are the most effected by this,” she said, adding that people in that age group represent 40 percent of all new cases.

“That’s your age group, a little bit younger and a little bit older,” she told her fellow high school students.

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