Clemmons, NC
Verenigde Staten
Tanglewood Park, Nature Trail Drive Aids Memorial Tuin in het Tanglewood Park sinds 1 December 1997
Chance finding of AIDS Memorial Garden inspires memories
Erica Angert recognized the 336 area code, but not the number that followed, so she let the call roll into voice mail. A reasonable move considering the deluge of spam and scams flooding phones these days. This time, though, the caller wanted to relay a compliment about the AIDS Memorial Garden tucked into a corner of Tanglewood Park.
Angert (formerly Brady) and Carrie Watson built the garden in 1997 for their project to earn their Gold Award, the highest offered by the Girl Scouts. She doesn’t think about the garden much these days, so hearing that it’s still moving visitors was particularly gratifying. “I’ve been by there a few times. I live in Virginia now,” Angert said. “I’m so pleased that it’s being taken care of and appreciated.” Especially considering the deeply personal meaning attached to the garden.

Exploring new things
Carol Wilkinson stumbled across the AIDS Memorial Garden by accident one recent weekday. “My friend and I like to explore different parks,” she said. “We went (to Tanglewood) looking for the medicine wheel and saw a sign for it.”
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Forsyth County’s largest, busiest park, the AIDS Memorial Garden is still what it was intended to be — a quiet, contemplative spot to remember lives lost to a virulent disease that plagued a generation and spun up new levels of ignorance and homophobia. “We had the idea for a garden for our Gold Star Award,” Angert said. “We started with plants and flowers and if we’d stuck to that, it could have been easy to forget.”
But in the planning stages, they decided to add the brick walkway, a finishing touch that allowed surviving friends and family to put down individual memorials with names stamped on them. “Adding the bricks made it feel more permanent,” Angert said. It also helped attract supportive folks who’ve cared for and maintained it through the years including the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and HIV support/education groups.
The brick walkway certainly caught Wilkinson’s eye and made a lasting, favorable impression. “We had to take a minute to read the names and think about the people on them,” she said. “We took it all in. Such a loss.” Indeed.

At its worst, an HIV diagnosis was a near death sentence.
HIV-related illness has killed more than 700,000 Americans since 1981 and more than 36.3 million globally, in particular African nations. It struck the gay community in the U.S. hard, and some pig-headed politicians used it as a cultural wedge to divide and villify.
All these years later, it’s still difficult to forget that our own Sen. Jesse Helms derided AIDS as “gay cancer,” implied that a slow, painful death was somehow deserved and stood in the way of providing federal money for AIDS research and relief overseas — positions Helms came to regret before his death. “I have been too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS,” Helms said in 2002, his last year in the Senate, in calling for $500 million in federal research spending. “In the end, our conscience is answerable to God,” Helms wrote in a widely read editorial explaining his change of heart. “Perhaps, in my 81st year, I am too mindful of soon meeting him.”

Tribute to a father
Lest anyone think that the sort of homophobia and discrimination that Helms ultimately renounced is an relic of a bygone era, look no further that a bill to protect same-sex marriage which was passed 267-157 Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, which faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, includes a provision that would require states to recognize valid marriages performed in other states and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Forty-seven Republicans joined all the House Democrats in voting for the bill. To the shock of absolutely no one, Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-5th) and Ted Budd (R-13th) were not among them. Unlike the out-of-nowhere call about the Memorial Garden, that didn’t surprise Angert. Still, she chose to focus on the fact that 47 Republicans voted in favor and that 71 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage.

And it also prompted her to share one of her motivations for building the garden in the first place. “My dad was gay,” she said. “He passed away a few years after we built it. Not from AIDS, but it still felt personal to me as a way to raise up the gay community.”
Michael Brady couldn’t live his life openly, Angert said, and feared that he’d lose his job if anyone learned. “He got to see ‘Will and Grace’ (the first network television show with a gay main character) but not how much things have changed like same-sex marriage and the (attempt to) repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. “I wish he could have seen that.”

Photos © Abigail Pittman Winston-Salem Journal

21 Juli 2022
Scott Sexton, Winston-Salem