Wagmiller, Jeff

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NAME: Jeff Wagmiller


A Blanket Statement About Love Quilt-makers Are Helping The World Remember Aids Victims

May 24, 1988|By MARY FLANNERY, Daily News Staff Writer

Over the occasional whirring of a sewing machine, a group of men examine bolts of cloth that are spread out on long folding tables at the First Unitarian Church in Center City.

From the cloth will come large, personalized quilt panels, each one inscribed with the name of someone who has died of AIDS. The men designing and sewing the quilts scarcely could sew a button on a shirt when they began, but they are willing learners because of the purpose of the Delaware Valley Quilt Project.

About 100 of these panels will be displayed at the University of the Arts, June 13-16, and ceremonies will recall all those who have died of AIDS in the area. As of May 2, the number stood at 798.

"A quilt is like a tombstone in a cemetery. It's eternal," said Jeff Wagmiller, 25. "For me, it's a way to show that my lover is still in my heart.

"What makes the difference between AIDS and other fatal illnesses is the way people think it's shameful if you die of AIDS. A lot of gay people have two families - their real family and their gay friends. Often, the real family shut out the gay friends from the death. So this is a way for the other family to memorialize the person whom they lost."

One blue denim panel near completion was inscribed with the deceased person's name and the phrase "Forever in Blue Jeans," since that's how his friends remember him. Another featured a G-clef and an academic hood, for a music professor.

After the display at University of the Arts, the Philadelphia quilts will be sent to the national Names Quilt Project, a collection of more than 14,000 panels that is currently on tour.

Philadelphia was originally a scheduled stop for the tour, but local organizers reluctantly decided to scrap plans for the display, because it required $35,000 in donations and at least 300 volunteers - a goal they felt they could not meet. Also, the assigned July 1-4 dates would coincide with a possible municipal strike.

Friend Dies, Boss Pries Hotel Employee Urges Aids Policy

July 28, 1988|BY ELLEN CASSEDY

Jeff Wagmiller's roommate died last spring. After the funeral, Jeff went back to his job as a waiter at the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel. The general manager, assistant general manager and personnel director were waiting for him.

"They said they were very sorry to hear a friend of mine had passed away," says Wagmiller, 25.

Then they asked to see the autopsy results.

"They'd heard rumors that my friend had died of AIDS," Wagmiller says. They said they were concerned about my own health."

At the time, Wagmiller didn't know whether he himself had AIDS or why his roommate had died. One thing he did know: it was none of his employer's business.

Wagmiller hired attorney David Webber and filed charges of harassment with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which protects handicapped people (including those with AIDS) and people who are perceived to be handicapped (including those perceived to have AIDS) from discrimination.

He wants the hotel to disseminate a non-discrimination policy to all 450 employees, and to hold employee seminars on AIDS in the workplace.

So far, the Hershey has declined to do either.


Unfortunately, the Hershey isn't telling. Presented with a list of questions, spokesman Rich Roberts wouldn't comment on either the specifics of Wagmiller's case or the hotel's approach to AIDS. So we'll just have to guess.

Let's guess the Hershey is afraid that if patrons found out there was an AIDS policy at the hotel, they'd think there was AIDS at the hotel. Then they might stop patronizing the hotel.

Let's guess the Hershey has decided that the best way to deal with AIDS at the workplace is to sweep it under the rug.

Jeff Wagmiller no longer works at the hotel and doesn't want a cash settlement. But rather than let the rumors fly and the myths multiply, he wants Hershey management to fight fear with facts.

* FACT: AIDS isn't spread by casual contact. You get it by sharing needles or having unprotected sex with someone who has AIDS, or through intimate contact with infected blood.

* FACT: The risk of contracting AIDS at the workplace is minimal. If the employer imposes simple safety precautions, the risk goes down virtually to zero.

* FACT: If you're going to get AIDS at the Hershey Hotel, it definitely won't be from eating there.

Employers, Insurers Unprepared For Aids Complaints Show Risk Of Ignoring It

August 05, 1987|By FREDERICK H. LOWE, Daily News Staff Writer

An AIDS victim and the lover of a man who died from the deadly disease have filed discrimination complaints against their employers, Colonial Penn Group and the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel, charging the businesses with harassment.

David Webber, a lawyer representing both plaintiffs, said he's seeking publicity about the complaints to encourage area businesses to adopt policies for employees who either have AIDS or have been exposed to the virus.

Webber said that the decision by the two workers to sue their employers is unusual but that the companies' allegedly negative reaction is not, despite the growing incidence of the disease.

According to the federal Center for Disease Control, 1.5 million to 2 million people have been exposed to the AIDS virus.

In Philadelphia, there have been 579 AIDS cases reported since November 1981, said Barbara Ward, the city's coordinator for AIDS surveillance. At least 302 of those have died, Ward added.

"Because AIDS is going to further expand, it's going to affect every employer and every workplace," Webber said. "I think employers would be wise to confront the problem now, rather than waiting until an employee is ill and having to deal with hysteria from co-workers and the negative reaction from customers."

Everyone eventually will know someone who has AIDS or has been infected with the virus, he said.

Despite the warning, most area-companies are taking a head-in-the-sand attitude toward AIDS on the job. Only a "handful" of businesses, such as hospitals, have adopted AIDS guidelines, said Kenneth D. Kleinman, a Philadelphia lawyer who advises companies on developing guidelines for handling employees who have AIDS or who carry the AIDS virus.

Kleinman, a senior associate with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said that for employers AIDS is a controversial and complicated issue, which can best be summed up with the pithy phrase "Title VII versus Chapter 11."

In this instance, Kleinman uses Title VII as an umbrella term to refer to a group of federal, state and local laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin and that protect the handicapped from job discrimination for non-work related injuries.

Chapter 11 is part of the federal bankruptcy law.

Kleinman said many companies are fearful they would lose business if their customers learn the firm employs a worker who has AIDS. Also employers fear that some of their workers will refuse to stay on the job with an AIDS- infected employee.

Such workers argue they quickly become objects of discrimination by their employers even though their presence poses no threat to customers. Medical evidence shows the disease is transmitted mainly through sexual contact and blood.

Jeff Wagmiller, a food server at the Hershey Hotel, said he filed a suit against his employer with the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission after company officials began implying that he might have AIDS because his lover died from complications resulting from the disease.

The 24 year-old Wagmiller, who lives in West Philadelphia, charged that the hotel's general manager, assistant general manager and director of food and beverage raised questions about his physical condition through discussions with other hotel employees. Doug Smolinski, the Hershey Hotel's general manager, said he couldn't comment on the suit be cause he hasn't seen it.

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