HIV activists this weekend drove an open-topped double-decker bus around London to expose cuts to HIV and sexual health programmes.
A recent Gay Star News investigation reveals how at least three clinics recently closed as a direct result of government funding cuts.
In response, a host of community pillars, queer music icons, and activists took to the streets – by way of a queer bus tour of London.
But the bus also symbolically carried the eulogies of some of those who died at the peak of 80’s crisis, that was so painful for the LGBTI community.
‘We wanted to expose the Government’s role in the continuing HIV/ AIDS epidemic. As well as the lack of permanent memorialization of those no longer with us,’ one of the event organizers Dan Glass tells Gay Star News.
‘It was about shining a light on those who have died as part of the historic governmental controversies institutional failure and pharmaceutical greed at the root of the epidemic.’
The central London bus tour traveled around visiting pivotal locations in the fight for support and medication for HIV positive people.
But crucially, memorials and pictures of victims were taken on board lifting the symbolism with the Bus tours route going nearby UK Parliament and the house of the Prime Minister 10 Downing Street.
Ahead of the event, Hope Winter Hall from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence told GSN of her plans to take the ashes of her late husband Rev. Virgil Hall on board.
Remembering the peak of the crisis she says:
‘In 1981 I was in New York. I remember the rumors and conspiracy theories. By the spring it was called GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency.) Then coming home to London where people began to get sick and die here. Then I got sick.’
‘I know HIV is no longer a death sentence now. But even as we approach the 40th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases.
Now aged 65, Hall remembers their queer relationship fondly. Saying the importance of taking her Husband’s ashes on board is because: ‘I dream of AIDS being over before I die – that dream can only come true if we never give up the fight.’
London landmarks blasted with ‘Don’t Die Of Ignorance Message’ once more
Starting in Soho square in the heart of the UK capitals gay center, the bus made stops at key locations in the HIV fight.
From Middlesex Hospital in Fitzrovia where some of the first cases were diagnosed to Trafalgar Square where huge protests were held in the 80s for medication.
Laden with messaging, ‘hands off our NHS,’ the bus’s message was roaring through central London.
But perhaps the most powerful was replicating the striking and iconic ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ Public Health England Campaign. This weekend the bus instead displayed a ‘Tories Don’t Die of Ignorance’ banner.
Specifically, the bus took on, even more, political legs reaching the Primeminister’s house 10 Downing Street. Here speakers discussed the ‘Section 28’ policy changes that would hit the LGBTI community hard.
Also known as clause 28, it banned schools and local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality.’
Finishing by moving the fight forward, the activists hosted a party to celebrate staff at 56 Dean Street.
It’s London’s busiest Sexual Health clinic, which is currently turning four out of five who want an appointment away.
But their overwhelming popularity is easily explained. The Bang Bus was also celebrating their 90% reduction in HIV+ diagnosis.
David Stuart who works at the clinic says, ‘We’ve had some exciting reductions in HIV diagnoses recently in London. But we remain aware of the challenges ahead and the history of HIV and AIDS in London. Saturday’s journey through some of that history was both poignant and celebratory.’
Beyond the striking message, was an opportunity to remember
Although the ‘BANG BUS – World AIDS Day Special’ bus tour was bringing attention to the HIV fight in 2017; it was also a place for immersive theater, spoken word and ultimately – memories.
Organiser Glass hopes it was a ‘sacred place for people to share love, loss, hope, and solidarity to continue. I hope it was another chance to weave our stories together. Continuing to strengthen the journey to end the HIV / AIDS pandemic.’
Sarah John Morris, singer with the Communards was one of the many supporters of the event.
‘I support the Bang Bus, in memory of my friend Mark Ashton who did so much to make common cause with the victims of social injustice.’
Mark’s story was brought to the attention of so many in the film Pride. It documented his life, but also all of the LGSM miners.
One of the founding members Johnathon Blake, who was one of the first to get a diagnosis was also there. Overwhelmed at the end of the event he says:
‘The truly amazing afternoon shows the HIV Pandemic is not over. We may have PrEP to add to the arsenal but the NHS is still not fully committed – the fight must continue.’
Alongside these superstar voices were nurses and doctors. They shared stories to those on the bus about life on the frontline of the National Health Service.