Prayer Ribbons, from Provincetown to Orlando
Directed by Lise Balk King

Reviewed by Hank Trout

The Compact, a community-based organization in Provincetown, Massachusetts, that has nurtured the HIV community since 1993, created an ever-growing art installation called Prayer Ribbons. The installation first appeared at Provincetown’s annual Swim For Life as a “visual witness” for the swimmers as they crossed the Provincetown Harbor. Since 1993, The Compact has invited people to send them messages to be inscribed on a Prayer Ribbon, honoring a loved one, whether living or departed, to add to this living memorial. Thus far, 3,500 personal messages on five-foot long strands of colored ribbons have been gathered.

After the horrific murder of forty-nine young, mostly Latinx LGBTQ women and men, in Orlando Florida, the Compact responded to the slaughter. Forty-nine black ribbons were inscribed in gold with the name of one of the Pulse victims and added to a strand of colored ribbons. The city of Orlando invited the Compact to bring the installation to Orlando to honor the victims.

Lise Balk King’s remarkable twelve-minute film, Prayer Ribbons, from Provincetown to Orlando captures the Prayer Ribbons’ installation in Orlando at a dinner for the victims’ families and at Orlando City Hall. Although the film is short in length, it is long on emotion and spiritual uplift.

Jay Critchley, the Founder and Director of The Compact, addressed the families in a heart-tugging speech. “One of the things that this community has fought back fiercely about is dealing with AIDS. These Prayer Ribbons are a result of that. We would like to share that resilience and that love and hope with the people of Orlando.” The contemplative faces of the families seem to say, “Message received.”

Two things in the film moved me very deeply. First, the reading of the names and ages of the Pulse victims, each accompanied by the mellow, haunting, yet soothing sound of a Tibetan ceremonial bowl—the perfect accompaniment to the solemnity of the occasion. And second, the chilling yet beautiful sight of hundreds of Prayer Ribbons fluttering in the breeze, twisting and turning, briefly revealing glimpses of the names inscribed on them. Even as jaded as I am, that sight pinched my heart, and I cried both times I’ve watched the film.

The filmmakers will release the film on December 21, the Winter Solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year, signaling the rebirth of the sun and its energy for regeneration and renewal. I can think of no better message, especially as we end this horrible, hurtful year.

For more information on how to view the film on December 21 and how to submit your own contribution to the Prayer Ribbons installation, please log on to

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick Greathouse. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.