The first display of the full Quilt was on October 11, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. At the time, the Quilt consisted of 1,920 panels and covered a space larger than a football field. With the overwhelming response to this display, the Quilt toured to 20 cities across the country, in 1988, to educate the population about HIV/AIDS and to raise funds for service organizations. During this four-month tour, over 6,000 panels were added to the Quilt.
The Quilt has only been displayed in its entirety on five separate occasions, each time taking up more space at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Quilt, currently the largest community art project in the world, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and in 2005 the Quilt received the “Save America’s Treasures” Federal Grant, officially marking it as an invaluable artifact that helps to tell the American story.
Dallas was the seventh stop on the 1988 tour of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and the display of nearly 200 blocks was held at the Centennial Building at Fair Park. In planning this display, the NAMES Project Foundation reached out to the Dallas Gay Alliance, which created a volunteer group to handle arrangements for the official display, as well as arrange additional smaller displays throughout the city. In addition to wanting to view the Quilt, the people of Dallas also wanted to memorialize their loved ones by adding their names to the Quilt. The Dallas Sewing Center was opened to address this desire. Caven Enterprises donated a storefront on Cedar Springs, which housed the donated sewing machines and materials that people could utilize to create panels.
In October of 1988, the Quilt returned to Washington, D.C., from its national tour. 8,288 panels were displayed on the Ellipse in front of the White House. At this display, loved ones, celebrities, and politicians read aloud the names of those represented on the Quilt, and this ceremony has been a tradition at Quilt displays ever since.
Members of the Dallas LGBT community, including John Thomas, attended this display, and represented the city in the candlelight vigil.
Duane Puryear attended this display, and can be seen holding the panel he created for himself. He contracted HIV at the age of 16 and was diagnosed at 22, at which point he moved back Dallas to be with his family. During this time, he worked with the AIDS Resource Center Hotline, which led to him taking on a public speaking role to help educate about HIV/AIDS. Puryear died in 1991, at the age of 26.