London should have an AIDS memorial – and the Assembly just voted to support it

The UK has no national memorial to victims of the epidemic

The Brighton and Hove AIDS memorial. Credit: Dominic Alves

I was very happy to see the London Assembly unanimously back the idea of a national HIV/AIDS memorial in London this week.

The idea for a national memorial to recognise those who died from HIV and AIDS was revived by Gay Men Fighting AIDS (GMFA) and they have been leading the campaign to make this memorial a reality.

The concept has been talked about for years, and meanwhile many other cities worldwide have finished and opened similar memorials, most recently New York

Now GMFA, in conjunction with the UK HIV sector, have revived the campaign and gotten thousands of signatories for a petition. I was proud to propose a motion to the London Assembly last month.

To get this passed unanimously is a strong statement of political support, which will add to the growing momentum behind this idea.

The long list of supporters collected by GMFA so far stretches from clinicians who worked through the epidemic, activist groups like Act Up and UK Black Pride, charities including the British HIV Association and The Haemophilia Society, and the mayor’s own Night Tsar, Amy Lamé.

We do need this in London. Our city was hardest hit by the epidemic in the UK, not just among the LGBT community but among people with haemophilia, new African communities, prisoners and injecting drug users.

The effects of that terrible epidemic are still keenly felt today by those who list loved ones to HIV and AIDS, as well as many people still living with this diagnosis.

London is also home to the pioneering 56 Dean St Clinic which I visited last year and which has demonstrated enormous progress in preventing new infections in recent months. 

It is wonderful that people in the UK newly diagnosed with HIV can presume a normal life expectancy.  But access to life-prolonging medication is not yet universal. London’s global reach means we have strong ties to communities still disproportionately suffering from AIDS and HIV.

But the memorial is not just about the people lost to a terrible disease. The AIDS epidemic profoundly challenged a lot of prejudices in our society and continues to do so more than 30 years later. This work must continue, and the memorial would serve a valuable purpose in recognising the importance of these events and continuing to educate people and break down stigma.

Yesterday I was very touched to see Assembly Members from across the political spectrum add their support and give moving speeches of their personal experiences. AIDS has affected so many people and testimonials from Assembly Members who were former health care workers and those who lost friends and former partners, showed. You can watch the speeches here (from 2h51m).

The mayor recently expressed support for the petition and wished the campaign every success. He promised to stay involved as the project develops. It is my hope that the backing from the mayor and the London Assembly helps build momentum to take the campaign to the next phase in encouraging potential backers and the Government to provide funding.

I first supported a memorial during the election campaign last year and it was a shock then to find out that the UK didn’t already have a national memorial. I hope we’re now one step closer to that.

Sian Berry is a Green member of the London Assembly

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.