Brighton’s gay bar owners, local businesses and dignitaries have joined forces on World AIDS Day today to launch the first permanent AIDS memorial in the city.

A handful of supporters gathered to watch the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor David Smith, release red balloons into the sky as a sign of respect to those who have suffered or died as a result of HIV/AIDS.

“This shows the commitment of people in Brighton and Hove to the struggle to alleviate the suffering of those living with HIV,” said the Mayor. “HIV and AIDS has been a disaster for the community. I think an AIDS Memorial is a fantastic idea.”

Amongst the crowd was John Percy, 44, the UK’s longest surviving HIV sufferer, having lived with the virus for 25 years. He sang a moving self-written song as the crowd heard that 468 lives have been lost in Brighton and Hove since the outbreak of HIV 25 years ago.

The Brighton AIDS memorial will be one of only two permanent AIDS memorials in the UK. Whitworth Gardens in Manchester is the site of the only current memorial, which was erected in 2000.

The design for the memorial is being offered as a competition to local artists and sculptors, which will be judged in June 2007. Organisers hope that the memorial will be erected by the summer, at a cost of £20,000.

Fundraising activities are already taking place, with most of the money expected to come from local businesses and fundraising events such as club nights.