Every question always begins and ends with people - or at least mine always do. I want to know why and how did it feel and who did it hurt and who cared and who didn't. I am a young queer man. I have lived in Pittsburgh my entire life, and for most of it I have walked down these streets knowing nothing of the history of my community. Every queer person knows that we lost a generation to AIDS. That generation would have been the one to hold my hand, walk me past a building on CMU campus, point and tell me about the parties they went to at the old gay bar that used to sit in this very spot. But that's where the losing comes in. The missing. The emptiness. It still all comes down to people, my people. And if there was to be no one there to tell me about my history, then I owed it to them to find out as much as possible on my own.
I approached this project with boundless enthusiasm. I needed to know to know to know. I worked hard, searched, encountered and read documents that made me want to turn away and cry. Close my laptop and give into that sense of lonliness. But I pressed on. I spoke to some of my mothers old friends (we have always been a Pittsburgh family), gained access to some incredible primary sources, even visited an old gay bar, the Pittsburgh Eagle, out in the middle of nowhere. But for every incredible thing I found there were ten more things that were missing. Empty. Dead.
This piece was originally going to be filled with quite a bit more emptiness. I was going to allow viewers to click on truly nonfunctional links, allow them to experience the frustration that I felt during my research. But as I approached the conclusion of this endeavor, a question started nagging at me: why should I leave more empty space unfilled? What service am I doing to the fellow members of my community by allowing there to be more pieces missing?
Most of the words used in this piece are not my own, taken from various sources, which are listed below. But I saw and read and heard plenty of things that I had no particular reason to incorporate verbatim into this final product. The expanse of knowledge I have now extends massively outside of the scope of this project. And so I used some of that knowledge to fill in the gaps. To the best of my ability. In places where I couldn't find words, I filled the space with my own.
I do not claim to know what it was like here during the height of the AIDS crisis, but there are so few people left to tell that story that I felt my time was better spent writing - at least trying to understand - rather than ruminating over and over on the lonliness of our situation. To those of you who are queer, who are no doubt familiar with the feelings I've expressed, I hope that you find some comfort in the knowledge I've offered. To those of you who are not, I hope this has provided you with an understanding that you would not otherwise have obtained. No matter who you are, I want to encourage you to seek out your communities, form as many bonds and ties as you can, no matter how small. If there is one thing I've learned from this, it's that no one deserves to feel alone.
All scanned in pages, blackout poems and otherwise, were taken from the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force handbook for those with HIV/AIDS, with the exception of "Act 148" which is a scan of the act itself directly from the Pennsylvania code.
Many quotations were taken from the Pittsburgh Queer History Project and its contents, most noteably the cards that were written upon the closing of the Holiday Bar. "Last Call For Holiday Bar" is made up entirely of quotations from these cards.
The collection of queer newspapers provided by the Special Collections Archive at the University of Pittsburgh aided greatly with my understanding and research of the time period.
If you have any questions, comments, or just want to chat feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org