December 14, 2009

Lost to AIDS, But Still Friended

From the New York Times:

LIKE millions of other Americans, Dominic Bash has a Twitter account, an online wall and a network of friends on the Web. His Facebook-style profile features Mr. Bash’s occupation as a hairdresser at the Abbey in Philadelphia, lists his birthday, the names of good friends, his interests and hobbies. It pictures him at his most typical and outrageous — at a Philadelphia gay pride parade, dressed in a lavender feather boa, his long blond hair styled in a braid reminiscent of Madonna, in her Heidi phase.

Mr. Bash’s profile also contains information less customary on social networking sites: the date of his death. Mr. Bash, 46 when he died in 1993, was a member of what a friend refers to as a lost generation of gay men, among the many who died of AIDS before the development of antiretroviral drugs rendered H.I.V. treatable.

“There is a real hunger for information about this period, this history and these lost lives,” said that friend, Chris Bartlett, a former classics scholar who has set out to rescue the memories of those lives, specifically 4,600 gay Philadelphia men who perished of AIDS in the 1980s and ’90s. While the memorializing impulse is ancient, the method Mr. Bartlett came up with is as new as the latest app; he has created a social networking site for the dead.

Modest by the standards of memorial Web sites like — a for-profit company that amasses 80 million obituaries — Mr. Bartlett’s site,, is far from the first AIDS commemoration. But its appearance now links it to a resurgence of attempts to reclaim the memories of thousands who died during a calamitous era, when H.I.V. was still a death sentence. It connects the dead to one another, to a larger community and to groups of potential new “friends” using technology that most of those it commemorates did not live to experience.

“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, begun seven years ago to assemble testimonies from the surviving members of the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

“There’s not even a postage stamp.”

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