It’s 1988. Thousands of LGBTI people were dead already from illnesses connected to AIDS. It was called the ‘gay plague’.
Gay neighborhoods became graveyards. Your postman, your bartender, your neighbor would just disappear.
Many brave gay and bi women ignored stares and glares to tend to the skeletal pocked-skin figures of the men they once knew.
And somewhere in Switzerland, two PR consultants pitched the idea of a World AIDS Day for 1 December.
This day, originally, was controversially first focused on just young people who had died from the illness.
Three years later, the Red Ribbon project became tied to the day itself. The color red was chosen as it was tied to passion, to blood, and to love.
In the dying embers of 1991, Freddie Mercury died from an AIDS-related illness.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, in April 1992, saw more than 100,000 red ribbons handed out to the audience. Many performers, like George Michael, wore one as tribute. The concert was watched by a billion people.
Finally, the world began to see AIDS differently. And for every year since then, many have worn the red ribbon to commemorate and raise awareness.
Thirty years of World AIDS Day
The date has been marked by every UN-member state since 1988.
While significant scientific advances have been made over the last 34 years, people living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination.
More than 35 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses. More than 78 million around the world have been infected.
Many world leaders use the occasion to reaffirm their commitment to eradicating the disease.
The UN hopes to eradicate the disease by 2030.
Each year, World AIDS Day has a special theme.
The theme for 2018 is ‘Know your status’. The aim of the year’s drive is to encourage people worldwide to get tested.
Worldwide, only 75% of people living with HIV are aware of their status.
Estimates suggest 9.4 million people are not aware they are HIV positive.
Data to be revealed
Expect data from 2017 to be released this week.
Many countries will be releasing their statistics like the UK, the US, India and many other countries around the globe.
UNAIDS has called on countries to aim for 90-90-90.
This means having 90% or over of those with HIV diagnosed and aware of their condition. It also means 90% of those diagnosed on the necessary antiretroviral treatment and 90% of those treated to have achieved viral suppression.
Landmarks will lit up in red to pay tribute to World AIDS Day.
Rome’s Piramide Cestia will be illuminated with red lights on the eve of 1 December.
Many buildings in Dundee will also be lit up in red lights.
Graeme Cockburn, health promotion officer for NHS Tayside, said: ‘We wish to shine a light on World Aids Day and the ‘undetectable equals untransmittable’ message, which is that someone on effective HIV treatment will not be able to pass the virus on sexually. This is known as U=U.’
And in Perth, the whole city will be lit up in red. For the WA AIDS Council, they have noticed an increasing number of straight men being diagnosed with HIV and want to raise awareness.
But will there be controversy?
President Donald Trump refused to reference the LGBTI community last year.
And, yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence did the same.
Speaking at the White House to mark World AIDS Day, he again reflected the administration’s ongoing failure to show interest in HIV relief for the LGBTI community.
Pence announced $100 million will be given to religious organizations that help prevent the spread of HIV.
‘President Trump believes this reauthorization is a critical component of our administration’s commitment to combat AIDS,’ Pence said.
You will likely know someone who is affected by HIV and AIDS.
The vast majority of people are not open about living with HIV because they still fear stigma and discrimination.
It’s only been 30 years since people wouldn’t dare touch a pen that belonged to someone living with HIV. That unfounded fear of ‘catching’ the virus through ways you could never catch it still exists in the heads of many, many people.
Ruth Coker-Burks is a straight woman who nursed and cared for dozens of gay and bi men in Arkansas in the 1980s.
She wants people to realize that while data may look good for now, we could easily backtrack.
‘I am afraid that right now we’re at the beginning of an another AIDS pandemic in the United States,’ she told Gay Star News.
‘The way things are going, especially as they’re cutting out medication for HIV.
‘Vice President Pence, he’s from Indiana, and that state has the highest rate of HIV transmissions.’
Ruth is campaigning for sex education in schools.
‘You’ve got a computer and you’ve got that little computer in your hand. You can learn yourself how to put a condom on, how to protect yourself,’ she says in a message to readers.