Today would have been the 50th birthday of my dear friend and ACT UP San Francisco comrade David Pasquarelli who was taken from us not only too soon but under most distressful circumstances. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve tried a number of times to compose something in remembrance of David but none of it felt right.
Too often the pain and sorrow of his death prevented the abundance of joy, wisdom and compassion that was so much a part of David from coming to the fore. Or I ended up writing more about my own experience of sharing his friendship through the tumultuous years of fighting AIDS.
While neither of those are necessarily bad (and may indeed find their proper place somewhere here on ACT UP Archives), my desire is to honor David in a way that connects not only with those who knew and loved him but also those who never had that chance. Though his activism was often stereotyped as dangerous or violent, the truth is that David Pasquarelli gave all he had because of a deep love for humanity that would not allow him to remain silent in the face of injustice.
There are so many things I miss about David, from the physical (his dazzling smile, his beautiful blue eyes) to the cultural (his impeccable taste in music and clothes), but most of all I miss his voice. Not just the soft sound of his speech but what he articulated––the intelligence and historical import, the power and hope which we all received from his impassioned participation.
To say that the loss of David’s voice robs me, robs all of us, of an essential element is an overwhelming understatement. Not only did he make sense of the chaos during those desperate times and provide moral clarity in a culture of greed, David’s voice help to unite us in response to what was at that time was the threat of extinction for gay men.
If the slogan Silence=Death was a gauntlet thrown down by ACT UP New York, then it was up to each of us to not only speak our truth but challenge injustice, to use our mind, body and voice as an obstacle to destruction.
David’s courage, intelligence, artistry and empathy for the marginalized remains a benchmark for what these days is termed social justice activism. I’m not sure what David would make of today’s dystopian world (other than the fact that he, more than anyone I knew, would have excelled with the myriad technological advances). I know that whatever he would be doing, it would be grounded in helping others and preserving the rich legacy of queer history.
The black button with a pink triangle that hangs above my writing desk reminds me Silence=Death. In the case of David Pasquarelli, and many others who gave their lives in the fight against AIDS, that prophecy was made true for only a force as insurmountable as death could have silenced his shinning, valiant voice. Thanks to the material that remains in the ACT UP Archives, there is ample documentation. I look forward to sharing more of that with you all.