The Atlanta-based foundation that owns the AIDS Memorial Quilt has said that the HIV-positive gay rights advocate who created the quilt and who is suing the foundation for wrongful termination can retain his health benefits even though he is no longer employed by the foundation, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Cleve Jones, who created the quilt and has served as the quilt's spokesman for 15 years, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco superior court claiming that the Names Project Foundation fired him because he encouraged a plan to take the quilt on a nationwide, election-year tour ending with a display on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Although Jones contends that he raised more than $1 million for the project, the foundation fired him on December 31 from his $41,500-per-year job. In addition, Jones said, the foundation threatened to end his health insurance, which it had promised to provide until his death. Foundation board president Edward Gatta said that Jones was not fired but that the foundation's board suspended his salary at the end of 2003 because Jones had refused to meet with officials during the last three months of the year to discuss changes in his role with the foundation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Gatta said that he is "disappointed and saddened" by the dispute with Jones, adding that he is "willing to work for a positive resolution," the Chronicle reported. Gatta said that Jones would be allowed to keep his health benefits, which cover the antiretroviral drugs that Jones said would cost him $22,000 per year without insurance. In addition, the foundation has authorized a display of portions of
the quilt "as a kickoff effort to bring the quilt in its entirety to the National Mall within two to five years," a foundation press release said.
The foundation is also launching a fund-raising effort to open a display and visitors center in San Francisco and to underwrite the cost of a Names Project workshop, the Times reports. Jones said, "The real story isn't me. The real story is the [AIDS] pandemic is worse than ever and this potent weapon [the quilt] is being rendered impotent and irrelevant" by the actions of the foundation.