AIDS in Philadelphia

Memorials of gay men we've lost

When Christopher Bartlett started The Gay History Wiki about gay men in Philadelphia who’ve been impacted by the AIDS crisis, he was an activist wanting to pay tribute to a generation forever changed by the disease. Today, as the executive director of the William Way Community Center, Bartlett continues his work in the LGBT community – reaching even more segments of the gay community 30 years after AIDS first made its mark in Philly and around the world.

He told the City Paper a few years ago: “I went to a lot of funerals. We all went to a lot of funerals. But I never became numb.”

In honor of the three decades of loss, activism and empowerment we remember this week, we wanted to spotlight a few of the men featured on the powerful site. Each was a friend, lover, brother and son who will be missed – and remembered.

Antonio Gerena (1959-1990)

“Antonio (Tony) was a sweet, handsome guy born in Utuado on the Island of Puerto Rico, who was raised in Palm Beach County, Florida. As a youngster visiting his grandfather on the Isla Boriqua,’ he played in the now famous Taino National Park in Utuado of which he was always very proud. He attended high school in Vineland, New Jersey, and later worked for Bain’s Deli in several locations around Philadelphia. Antonio was also ‘mi novio,’ my lover, for seven years until his death. During his two-year illness which eventually claimed him, he volunteered at ActionAIDS as a Buddy in their Buddy Program. Tony was a happy-go-lucky guy who always had a smile and infectious laugh, his eyes sparkled with a joy in life, the joy of a happy ‘farm boy.’ His family was always important to him, he was especially devoted to his mother, Maria, and his two brothers, Chino and Luisito, and his aunt, Carmen.”

Victor Rash (1954-2003)

“Victor R. Rash was born in Dover, Delaware, on January 15, 1954. Upon graduating from Caesar Rodney High School in 1972, Victor joined the Navy, and was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina and, later, Portland, Maine. After the Navy, Victor settled in Portland for a time, and shortly after moved to Lewiston, Maine, with his partner, Rene. Victor also lived in San Francisco, Wilmington, and later, Philadelphia, where he took up residence for many years. Victor spent the last several years of his life in New York City (Manhattan), where he lived with his beloved canine friend, Blaze.’ After a long illness, with many challenging health complications, our dear, beloved friend, Victor R. Rash, peacefully left his body on August 2, 2003 in New York, NY. Victor is buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Camden, Delaware. Victor rented a wonderful little beach house one summer, a block from the beach (in Long Beach Island), and generously invited many of us down to enjoy the shore together. Many sweet recollections of Victor, much like these golden, halcyon days we shared together at ‘LBI,’ continue to resurface.”

Arnold Jackson (1957-1998)

Arnold Jackson was a writer, leader and advocate in the black gay community in Philly, a coordinator with We the People Living with AIDS/HIV and founder of Positive Health. “Arnold was a really good friend to me. He was always ready to listen and he was so very loyal. I remember fun times, too. I remember us going to see Men in Black and both of us lusting after Will. Then we went back to my place and my boyfriend at the time made us a spaghetti dinner while Arnold and I chatted. I miss him so much. For a long time after he died I would be having a rough day and I would just get a whiff of patchouli and I knew he was nearby saying as he always did, ‘You can only do what you can do.'”

Dominic Piccirelli (1967-2006)

“Dominic grew up in Philadelphia, and joined ACT UP Philadelphia in his early 20s in about 1990. He participated in many demonstrations and also helped with an art project to memorialize ACT UP members who had died of AIDS. He was a writer and poet, and also a friendly coat-check person at Woody’s. He died in the summer of 2006.”

For a full list of the thousands of Philly men featured on the site, please search the person index. Please also considering sharing your own stories with the Wiki and with G Philly this week.