We all know the charges that get leveled at the AIDS Quilt, that it's not “real” activism, that it was “soft” or part of what came to be known as “AIDS kitsch” The trouble with all these accusations, though, especially the last one, is that these couldn't really be made until after the first years of the epidemic had transitioned into something tragic but less always immediate. The idea that anything that commemorated the deaths of your friends who died by the hundreds of thousands while the government and mainstream America ignored their cries and demands for help could be called “kitsch” is a creation of the space provided by history.And while the quilt may seem “sweet” or “quaint” to some of certain political persuasions, it's important to remember, as Stitching A Revolution documents, there was a time that displaying the quilt or even mentioning it was highly controversial. Celebrities didn't visit at first, families didn't come out at first, and it wasn't even until the Clinton administration did a presidential liason come to the Quilt when it was displayed, even though it was displayed on the Mall numerous times before that.
Although the trend is for people to come out earlier and earlier and the closet seems to be more the exception than the rule at least among LGBT people in the United States, when the Quilt first started being widely displayed, this was not the case. Families of origin often met their dead son's chosen family for the first time at the Quilt. Perhaps it was “safe” but it was safe enough that worlds could bump into each other, and that is its own kind of revolution.