❤ Love is Love ❤

February 4, 2018

Written by our Lead Wedding Designer Jason Williquette.

”  I’m a gay male in the flower business.  “

Shocker, I know! I’ve always been surrounded by a loving, supportive network of family, friends, coworkers and creatives. For most of my life I’ve felt secure and safe in my own skin. From being a kid watching the Wizard of Oz in my mom’s ruby red heels, to getting my first job in the floral business at a shop run by a part-time drag queen, to meeting my now husband at a foam party, yes a foam party, I’ve always had a path and safety net. I feel lucky and blessed to have had a support network in my life: just the kind of support network embodied in the work Center on Halsted and the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin do to help and empower the LGBTQ community. Love is love. And I am lucky to live in a time when I can say that.

When I was younger and in one of my first jobs in a flower shop, my manger was a 60-something gay adult male who had been living with HIV for many years. He became my connection to an LGBTQ past so different from my own, a chronicler and history lesson from a time when my community was less accepted, the AIDS epidemic shook a nation and the LGBTQ community had no formal resources to access fundamental rights like healthcare and equality before the law. He told me stories of how he had been kicked out of his house as a teenager because he was gay but still managed to make it through high school and on to college. Scraping by on odd jobs, cheap, sometimes unsecure housing and the rare elusive scholarship to help. He graduated, moved to Chicago, took a job at marketing agency, met many friends and eventually met a life partner. But somewhere in the middle of it all, the AIDS crisis had exploded in the early 80s and he found himself diagnosed with a disease that at the time we knew little about. It was a scary time and many many people died from a disease that at the time was a “gay” disease. In that not too distant past, not all love was love and being gay could be a death wish. My manger, my friend, my link to this past, had his partner die in his arms after years of battling together a disease few understood. Their love was as deep and true as any two people could have.

“I’m proud to be announcing that our company Flowers for Dreams is dedicating this Valentine’s month to love of all shapes, feelings, types, and imaginations. Love is not one thing. It never has been. Love knows no color or boundary. Love is love is love.”

It is because of the tireless work Center on Halsted and the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin do that this past no longer exists today. Center on Halsted provides LGBTQ youth, adults and seniors with that safety net and network I’ve grown to know in my own life. Through numerous programs targeted at community building and support, healthcare, housing and meals, the Center serves as a place for those who find themselves without a place in life. In critical times, anyone—whether straight, gay, bi, trans, nonconforming or anywhere else on the spectrum—needs a support network like the Center on Halsted, and it gives me such comfort to know that if I ever found myself alone that such an organization exists.

Clearly we know now that HIV/AIDS is not just a “gay” disease and it could affect everyone in any walk of life. Love is love, we are all human and while we all experience life in different ways, illness and disease can affect us all. The Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin provides quality accessible healthcare for those who would not have access to it. Their mission not only focuses on treatment but education and prevention. They help over 3,000 Wisconsin residents and bring education to countless people. They are helping to change the stigma of the past and make sure no one views their circumstance negatively.

I’m a gay male in the flower business. I have a loving husband, a supportive family, and an amazing workplace that gives back to a community I hold so near and dear. Love is love and I am so privileged to live in a time where I can say that so freely. I remember and honor those who came before me who weren’t so lucky and am grateful for the charities that make our community stronger, empowered and resilient. Love is love.

Learn more about the amazing, inclusive work of our February charities Center on Halsted in Chicago at centeronhalsted.org and AIDS Resource Center in Milwaukee at arcw.org.