The London AIDS Memorial Campaign Core Team
A message from our CHAIRPERSON . . .
I’m 55 years old and a gay man – and, like many of my generation, witnessed the early years of the epidemic, from the first days when rumours about a new, terrible disease in the United States started to surface in our early gay press. I’d already been scared witless about the possibility of catching Hepatitis B (which I later did) – only very rarely fatal – and being a serving officer in the Royal Navy at the time found it very difficult to access reliable information. There were other terms then too: GRIDS (Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome) made an early appearance when it was supposed to affect gay men only – as did the acronym HTLV3 (Human T-Lymphotropic Virus Type 3). The work of Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo later gave rise to the discovery of HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus – as it is known today: the virus that leads to AIDS.
In those days I had to live a hidden life, as a gay man in the Navy. As a personal rule, I had no gay friends, no regular lover let alone a boyfriend – but when he came along, unexpectedly but which much joy in the late 1980’s, I adopted all his close friends – mainly in their late twenties or thirties – as my own. There were 2 groups of them, with a little overlap. Of the one group, I am the only one left today – all lost to HIV apart from one who drowned in the Marchioness river boat disaster of 1989; mind, he was HIV-positive too. This group included my own, dear boyfriend. And of the other, larger group of 18 or so friends? Well, there are 4 of us still walking this earth. One is currently in a coma in hospital but the rest of us are well.
So, like many of my generation, I have attended rather too many funerals, earlier in life than I would otherwise have expected, said too many elegiac last words, and sometimes, not even been able to say goodbye, as a family in denial excluded those who their son had associated with.
I left the Navy in 1992 after 20 years’ successful service, foregoing the prospect of commanding my own ship to be able to spend more time with my partner. I had to give a year’s notice, giving some cock-eyed story as to why I was throwing my career away. In the end, he died 2 days before my last day in the Navy without any of my colleagues being any the wiser as to what had transpired. In those days, to be gay in the British Armed Forces was a criminal offence.
In the years that have followed I have been privileged to work for several years as a volunteer at the London Lighthouse residential unit – an early, trail-blazing HIV hospice in West London, made possible by the vision, tenacity and support of several wonderful individuals – and for a while as a Health Promotion Officer with the Terrence Higgins Trust, another fine organisation. Through this and other work I came to learn about the many different communities who were being affected by the virus; how this epidemic had no boundaries, either human or geographical. How it fed off ignorance and in turn bred prejudice and bigotry. How it truly affected us all.
I was also one of those who led the successful campaign in the nineties to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the British Armed Forces, something which I hope lends me the experience to succeed with this challenge too. Today I have returned to working in the charity sector after a wild and sometimes giddy few years of running gay bars and restaurants – and even a small TV production company. I work for a small human rights organisation and here I feel at home.
For myself, I want to see somewhere in my adopted home city of London where I can remember and honour my lost friends. On an early spring day, with quiet words or flowers – or as one in a greater gathering when many come together for solace, to share and to remember and to bring comfort. And I also want to see somewhere which will both educate and stand as a beacon, as testimony to the sacrifices and struggles of those who, at the darkest times of the epidemic, campaigned and advocated, stood up and shouted and made absolutely sure that something was done. That the right resources were allocated and the correct decisions made. That at some point in the future, people can look at the memorial and its record of names and may wonder whose they were and what lost lives they represented; perhaps to realise too that these names were no different than their own.
We owe it to them …
CORE GROUP TEAM :
We meet face to face every month, with individual & online meetings in-between.
Chair : Patrick Lyster-Todd PR Manager : Keith McDonnell Education Advisor : David Mitchell Charities Co-0rdinator : Kumari Salgado Finance : Chris Rawlins Events Managers : Tony Fletcher & Stewart Who? Pop-Up Arts Curator : Mandy Webb Ball Rollers/Rudders/TeaPeople : David Parker, Gary Henshaw
SUB-GROUPS : Fundraising and Finance - Location and Local Authority – PR & Marketing – Maintenance & Sustainability – Charitable Status – Community Involvement – Education – Design Competition
Core group members may sit on these sub-groups and co-opt other people as needed to provide specialised experience and knowledge. Sub-groups would then report directly to the main core group as and when, to allow greater degree of flexibility about decision making.
PATRONS : Spike Rhodes – Wayne G - Pratibha Parmar