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These LGBTQ campaigners are fundraising for the UK’s first national AIDS memorial

Ella Braidwood July 2, 2018

A group of campaigners are fundraising for the UK's first national AIDs memorial. (PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of campaigners – including prominent LGBTQ activists – have started raising money for the UK’s first national AIDS memorial to be built in London.

The AIDS Memory UK campaign aims to raise £7,500 towards a national tribute to remember those who have died from the syndrome in Britain.

The memorial would also celebrate those living with HIV.

Thousands of men, women, and children died when an AIDS epidemic hit the UK in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ash Kotak, curator of AIDS Memory UK, told PinkNews: “For many of us, HIV was a huge, huge traumatic experience in our lives.

“We were in our twenties, and when you’re finding your independence, you’re finding love, and everything’s exciting – you don’t imagine that people you’re in love with would suddenly die and you have to look after them.”

He added: “You’re so traumatised by it. It was a war. And when we went through that war, and we came through the other side of it, we were all a bit shell-shocked. And suddenly it was all forgotten.”

AIDS Memory UK is made up of a cross-section of both LGBTQ and straight activists.

The campaign was launched on Sunday night at an event run by Poetry LGBT in Shoreditch, which puts on monthly open mic nights for queer artists in London.

Kotak, whose boyfriend tragically died from AIDS, explained: “We need to have a tribute to HIV/AIDS in this country, which is fitting. Something that people will come and see. An art installation, which we should have in central London.”

He continued: “We have to tell people that HIV is not a death sentence anymore, in the UK at least…It has to be a national issue again, because AIDS changed how we thought about ourselves.

“It brought up conversations about drug use, sexuality, migration, refugees, [and] ethnic minorities – so much was suddenly discussed.

“The UK was forced to confront these issues and, as a result, moved forward and became more accepting of such issues.”

He said the memorial would also “remind us that AIDS is not over until we work together to achieve the UNAIDS vision of #EndAIDS2030.”

A new festival –  the AIDS Histories and Culture Festival 2018 – will run throughout July alongside the campaign.

Kotak said that, although there are four other AIDS memorials in the UK – in Manchester, Brighton, Edinburgh and outside Oxford – there is no national tribute to those who died from the syndrome.

He added that the national tribute would be used “to connect” all the AIDS memorials in the country.

The first recorded death from an AIDS-related illness in Britain was in December 1981.

It’s estimated that there are around 101,200 people living with HIV in the UK.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 35 million people have died from HIV worldwide – and more than 36 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2016.

Today, HIV can be effectively treated to reduce the viral load in the blood to undetectable levels, meaning that it cannot be passed on and does not damage the immune system.

Drugs like Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can also be taken to reduce the risk of getting HIV.

Bottles of antiretroviral drug Truvada are displayed at Jack's Pharmacy on November 23, 2010 in San Anselmo, California. A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that men who took the daily antiretroviral pill Truvada significantly reduced their risk of contracting HIV.
Today, antiretroviral drugs like Truvada are used to treat people with HIV. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, a member of the AIDS Memory UK team and the first openly HIV-positive parliamentary candidate, told PinkNews: “For me it’s a very personal campaign, but it’s also really important that there is a collective group of the community.

“And that’s really important that it’s not just gay men, it’s bisexuals, it’s trans [people], it’s women who are straight, who are HIV-positive.

“People don’t realise that it’s not a community issue, it’s a society issue.

“We want to make sure that there is some way of putting into memory those people by having a memorial.”

He added: “There’s never been a national memorial, and I think it’s an oversight, and is a major issue that we’ve never thought about properly.”

Red ribbons, a symbol of solidarity for people living with HIV/AIDS
Red ribbons have become a symbol of solidarity for people living with HIV/AIDS. (ESTHER LIM/AFP/Getty Images)

Hyyrylainen-Trett added that he hoped that the memorial would be completed in 2021, to mark forty years since the outbreak of the AIDS crisis in the UK, but that said that this date is “flexible.”

He said that a national tribute would allow those who have lost family and friends to AIDS to have a place where they “can go and stand and think about people who they loved and have lost.”

Last year, the London Assembly unanimously voted to support the creation of a national AIDS memorial in the capital.

To donate to AIDS Memory UK, visit: www.gofundme.com/aidsmemoryuk

More: AIDS, HIV, London, memorial

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