On a day of activism which saw 10,000 people march through the streets of Melbourne protesting the recent Federal Budget decisions, a gathering of a very different kind quietly emerged as the sun was setting down Collins Street.
At the northern end of Melbourne’s City Square over 400 people gathered before a small stage, in front of which lay a two metre Red Ribbon, surrounded by hundreds of white pillar candles.
Sunday 18th May marked the 31st International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. Globally people from affected communities, their friends and loved ones, gathered just like those in Melbourne.
Coordinated by the Global Network of People Living with HIV and delivered locally by Living Positive Victoria, the candlelight memorial was first held in 1983 and remains one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilisation campaigns for HIV awareness.
This year’s theme “Let’s keep the light on HIV” was chosen to promote a positive message of hope while respectfully ensuring the 33 million lives already lost to AIDS are never forgotten. It’s a message delivered by more than 1200 community organisations in 115 countries worldwide.
Traditionally Candlelight Memorials are a solemn occasion but with JOY 94.9’s Michael Dalton as Master of Ceremonies, the evening was always going to have its light-hearted moments. Balancing the tragedy of loss, the sadness of remembrance and inspiration of hope is a tough gig for any MC but the drive-time host excelled.
Jamaican born Dr Clovis Palmer, a researcher from the Burnet Institute delivered the key-note address. From his childhood years, Clovis knew he would work towards the eradication of HIV. In acknowledging the 35 million or more lives extinguished due to HIV or AIDS, he reminded the audience of the contribution these people have made to science, medicine, society, culture and humanity.
Australia’s young gay men are amongst our nation’s most vulnerable to a new HIV diagnosis and 30yo Dean Camilleri from Living Positive Victoria’s Positive Speakers Bureau shared his story of living with HIV for the last 10 years. For Dean, enduring the stigma associated with HIV has often been more difficult than living with the virus itself. His inspirational resilience is an example of a new generation of people living with HIV who remain determined to live a full and productive life.
Cath Smith was diagnosed with HIV seven years ago. Her story is one that in Australia is rarely heard yet globally represents the majority of people living with HIV. Every minute of every day, another women somewhere in the world is told she now has HIV. Coping with the internalised and externalised stigma of HIV has been a constant challenge for Cath but her resilience and advocacy drives change in an often forgotten space.
ENUF, Living Positive Victoria’s ground-breaking HIV stigma campaign challenges everybody to make a stand against stigma. Melbourne’s Gay Rugby team the Melbourne Chargers are ambassadors for the ENUF campaign and club president Anton Brookes encouraged those present at the Candlelight Memorial to sign the pledge ahead of the International AIDS Society conference coming to Melbourne in July, AIDS 2014.
Directed by Ursula Paez, Melbourne’s all-male gay choir Low Rez sang throughout and as the darkness fell upon the City of Melbourne, the crowd stood silently remembering. Flames flickering in the breeze… and united in hope.
- Master of Ceremonies: Michael Dalton
- Keynote speaker: Dr Clovis Palmer, Burnet Institute
- PLHIV speakers: Cath Smith and Dean Camilleri
- Anton Brookes – President of Melbourne Chargers
This segment first published on the JOY Community Highlights podcast.