Twenty-nine years ago in San Francisco, the first International AIDS Candlelight Memorial took place. Since then, hundreds of cities, including Ottawa, have staged similar gatherings each May to shed light on the realities of HIV and AIDS.
“The goal of the event is to remind the community that Ottawa is a city living with HIV,” says David Mills, of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa’s Men’s Health Project. “HIV hasn’t gone away, and we need to address the discrimination that people living with HIV and AIDS face.”
The event, which will open with a blessing from an Algonquin elder followed by the lighting of a large candle that signifies the unified light of all the vigils happening around the world, invites members of the public to come out and share in the community’s stories.
“We have people from different communities in Ottawa who will be speaking,” Mills says. “Gay men, people from Caribbean communities, people who have been living with HIV for 20 or 30 years, as well as people who have been infected more recently. We’re also inviting the public to step forward to tell their stories and how they’ve been affected by HIV.”
Thanks to the Canadian AIDS Society, sections of the Canadian AIDS memorial quilt will be on display at this event — including sections that commemorate people from Ottawa.
“It’s increasingly rare that the quilt is shown, even in part,” Mills says. “It’s special to be able to show some of it this year.”