World AIDS Day 2017
2017 feels like a particularly poignant year to be marking World AIDS Day, following, as it does, the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality between men in England. How many of those men embraced this new freedom, only to run headlong into the decades which laid waste to their generation, and to younger people too, as the AIDS pandemic took hold?
AIDS touched my own life only tangentially, through friends, as a young woman living in the provinces. Latterly I have come to know too many for whom the horrors unfolded first hand, not least those who cared and accompanied, who mourned and remembered their friends. Already on my social media timeline, a friend has shared his memories of his first HIV test, a frightened 17 year old, in 1994, being offered gentleness and dignity by a nurse, but no real certainty or consolation, at a time when a positive test was still tantamount to a terminal diagnosis. How many more of those frightened 17 year olds never saw 20, or 30 or 40? This summer I had the honour of meeting Rosemary Bailey, whose book about her brother Simon, a priest with AIDS whose story was told in a groundbreaking BBC documentary, has been republished this year. It's a timely and tender reminder of the impact of AIDS on the Christian community - and of the remarkable and Christ-like response. I know that as today unfolds, I'll hear more stories from the remarkable members of OneBodyOneFaith, some of whom I'm privileged to call my friends.
And what of those who have survived, and who hold candles today for those they have lost? What of those who have stood alongside me in rememberance in draughty cathedrals on December evenings down the years, who are themselves no longer with us? And what of those of this generation, living in a world where a diagnosis has such different implications, but where stigma still needs to be tackled and treatments made available to all who need them, regardless of their place of birth or ability to pay.
It feels to me as if we have an enduring responsibility handed down to us, to be thankful for all that's changed over the past 30 or more years, to continue to fight for justice in treatments and care - but most of all to remember those we have lost and those who cared for them. That's what I shall be doing in Nottingham later today, in solidarity with the other members of OneBodyOneFaith who will also mark the day, with prayers, or candles or silence, or simply alone with their memories.
1 December 2017