The Value of Place: An Analysis of the Castro’s role in addressing the AIDS epidemic

The photograph below is a depiction of who of Bobby Orr was, which is the name on this quilt shown above. This photo was taken at the   AIDS Memorial Quilt located in Atlanta, Georgia. The quilt is shown at this location an can be found on panel 1333. The purpose of this essay is to interpret the multi-modality shown on the quilt I have chosen.  By doing this I can understand the broader aspects of material culture.  This quilt has inspired the research present in this essay and honors the individuals of the Castro. Read more about Bobby Orr’s memorial block here.

According to the Huffington Post, the Castro was a city located in San Francisco where “a group of people who for countless years had been marginalized, cast- out, even hated came to live in a neighborhood where they built their own vibrant culture.” this is why I have named my website “The Castro.” For anyone who is interested in learning about Aids and how it has influenced communities like the Castro.

Photo captured by Cache’ Downer

Everything written in this Analysis is not from my personal experiences but from what I have found from within this quilt. The quilt panel’s embodiment of the Castro life during the 1980’s taught me about the value of place for marginal communities dealing with the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. First I would like to discuss how Castro, San Francisco, and the AIDS epidemic began affecting those of the LGBT community. But before that, you must understand what the Names project has done to impact impact those who have been effected by the AIDS epidemic. As stated above the Castro is for those would have been cast out, using evidence I will discuss the role the Castro has played in the Aids epidemic in the 1980’s and also today to see how far equality has changed.   In this, I will define what marginal communities are and what other marginal communities besides “The Castro” have been created around HIV/ AIDS epidemic and how they might be dealing with this epidemic.

What is the Names Project? (HIV/AIDS epidemic)

The Names Project was created by a small group of strangers who came together in San Francisco, there mission was to document the lives of those would die from aids. The creators of the Names Project did this by creating a memorial “the quilt” so that those who have died from the epidemic could be remembered. The quilt is a reminder of the AIDS epidemic in the 1960’s. In the quilt, a single block is composed of eight individual panels, and a panel is 3 by 6-foot, which is typically the size of a human grave.According to a coordinator of the NAMES Project, Roddy Williams, there are currently 5959 blocks. Click here if you want to know more about the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

According to Avert (global in formation website on HIV and AIDS), “AIDS is not a virus but a set of symptoms (or syndrome) caused by the HIV virus. A person is said to have AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infection, and they develop certain defining symptoms and illnesses. This is the last stage of HIV when the infection is very advanced, and if left untreated will lead to death.” Willi McFarland, a graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study to make a connection between unprotected anal intercourse with one or more partners of unknown HIV increased in bisexual males or females. McFarland’s study showed that women were more immune to the disease.(1604-1606)

Photo from AIDSinfo

This photo on the left helps give us a better understanding of how in a few years if untreated AIDS can that over your life. It gives those who have HIV a reason to want to continue treatment because as stated above by Avert aids could eventually lead to death. In order to do this analysis, it is important to understand the disease and what caused it to come to be. Because of the time period of those in the  Aids Quilt, technology and the sciences were not advanced enough to truly understand the cause of the disease and how to prevent it. Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at the Fenway Institute, argues that by improving the health outcome for those who are HIV positive because there are some challenges that we have discovered now that we didn’t know in the 1960’s. Many of the people who died of Aids on the quilt were in the 1960’s . According to the medication for HIV became available in the early 1980’s. This is relevant because it proves that they didn’t have a good understanding to help prevent the outspread of the disease. Not only because of this but because at this time period gay men were seen a dispensable , and their diease was unworthy of any serious attention.

As stated above AIDS wasn’t known to many people until the outbreak, and at the time it truly didn’t have a name. AIDS was a mysterious outbreak  so the question is what was the name of AIDS before it got it’s actual name? As predicted there were several names like “Gay-related immune deficiency”or “The Gay Plague”.  It inquired these names because at the time period AIDS was only detected in homosexual men.

How did the AIDS outbreak affect the Castro in 1980?

historical essay by Mia Schwartz states that “In the 1970’s, thousands of gay men flocked to San Francisco’s Castro district to embrace their newfound sexual freedom.” She states that just in a year the Castro lost half of it “gay” community to the epidemic.

Photo by Rick Gerhater

The Names Project played an important role, as shown in this photo it gave the nation a view of all of the lives lost this epidemic due to the lack of knowledge about AIDS. The nationwide misconception of the disease led to the need of us as a nation to see what is being done wrong or what needs to be researched in order to tackle the AIDS epidemic. As Stephen L. Eyre of the University of California argued that bisexual men of San Francisco are conceived as monolithic (united front) meaning that need to stand together to get the word out about aids.

The reaction of those in the LGBT community of the Castro was very fast and effective. This is photo is an example, this is a poster that was posted around the Castro to promote a Woman’s Day Blood Drive in which lesbian women would donate blood to gay men affected by aids. This is relevant because as McFarland stated woman are more immune to the disease.

This outbreak also had an impact on the Castro’s community, due to the fear and uncertainty because people didn’t know much about the disease, in order to contain the disease some decisions were made. Businesses lost work because of the heterosexuals were afraid of any type of intercourse with homosexual men. They were the outcast of the place where they went to feel as if they were in a safe haven. Rafael Diaz, who does psychotherapy for Gay men in Santa Rosa, California, argues that people make interpersonal connections that connect to our need for both sexual and health safety.(pg. 89-112) And that’s exactly what the Castro was created for. As stated before America misunderstood the disease, therefore most of the activism for research about the epidemic came from the LGBT community.

What are Marginal Communities?

For those who don’t know, according to IGI Global, marginalized communities are “socially excluded groups of people for different reasons… [to] live in isolated places or depressed areas.”  Most of the time for LGBT community were mostly known as  “gayborhoods”, an example would be the Castro, San Francisco and The Christopher Street (Greenwich Village, Manhattan).In Greenwich Village, much like the Castro. lays the origin of gay pride, where as the Stonewall riots in Christopher Street awakened gay emancipation. During the 1970’s when aids was known to the masses, gay men were disenfranchised sexual minorities. Becoming available in urban areas like San Francisco and New York, giving gay men a new sense of freedom. The disease was so widespread throughout the gay community, gay men began to question why some were sick an others weren’t. Gay men began to find themselves, once again rejected and despised by others.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis

The LGBT Community in the Castro  soon began to realize that if they didn’t take action now, no one would. They created several organizations like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City (1981) and the San Francisco the AIDS Foundation in (1982). Now that AIDS is know to the masses there are many opportunity to those to seek help who have AIDS.Clinics that already existed around /the country stated AIDS programs. These early organized responses to HIV/ AIDS relied on those who knew someone with aids that’s what makes the Names Project so important to this analysis, because by created the quilt it let everyone know that aids was a serious issue and something need to be done about it.

Research that helps many

By understanding what AIDS is we now understand how to handle the diease. Those who once felt cast out and alone came together to help find a solution that was killing people like them. Through sciences and technology this was achieved. The embodiment of the Castro in Bobby Orr’s panel gave me a better understanding of what marginalized communities are and how they can impact a nation.   After doing research I thought of the question “What marginalized communities have been created in response to the AIDS outbreak?” This will require a lot of insight on other panels and more research if interested you can visit  The Names Project website here.

If you or anyone you know has AIDS and haven’t been treated for it please visit this website on here it has a number for you to call.  


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Diaz, Rafeal  M. “Trips to Fantasy Island: Contexts of Risky Sex for San Francisco Gay Men.” Http://, 1 Feb. 1999, 

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