AIDS Memorial Quilt Leaves Tulsa
TULSA, Oklahoma - The latest numbers from the Oklahoma Health Department show nearly 6,000 people in Oklahoma are living with HIV/AIDS.
Since 1982 nearly 5,000 Oklahomans have lost their lives to the virus. Many of them are memorialized by quilts on display at Oklahomans For Equality. On Saturday, which happens to be World AIDS Day, the quilts will be returned to Atlanta.
Each panel tells a unique story of a loved one who died but nearly all have something in common their lives were touched by Reverend Leslie Penrose.
"I was terrified I was going to forget one of their names because remembering their names was so important,” said Penrose.
The names and the faces on these quilts Reverend Penrose knows personally.
"Chris and Zack, and Karen and Adam, and Andy, Mark, Brad, David, Kyle, Wendy, Stephen, they just go on and on,” said Penrose.
It was 1988 in Tulsa Leslie says there was only one funeral home that would allow those who died from HIV/AIDS and she was the only minister at the time who would officiate their services.
"For that first period of time I was probably only doing one a month or so but within a year and for the following 5 to 6 years often times 2 or 3 a week," said Penrose.
“She could put people at ease just by her own spirit,” said Brad Mulholland.
Putting people at ease during a time when Brad says it was difficult to be openly gay and go to church.
"We got the letter asking us or stating we were welcome in the church but please don't drink out of the drinking fountains, go in the kitchen or the Sunday school rooms and that was hard," said Mulholland.
Also hard was losing his partner Mark Vickers. Mark died on May 5th, 1995 he was just 37 years old. By his side Leslie Penrose.
"Leslie at the time was the only one that we knew that was embracing gay and HIV and dying," said Mulholland.
It was real, it was authentic, and it is what ministry is about. I wouldn't want to repeat it, but I also wouldn't want to trade a single day of it,” said Penrose. "I say thank god that I was privileged enough to be invited into and trusted with their living and their dying."