Every third Sunday in May, people around the world gather to honour and celebrate the lives of those who have been affected in some way, by the global HIV epidemic. But the event is also much more than just a memorial, as it provides opportunities for leadership development, policy advocacy, partnerships, and improvement of community mobilization skills. It also provides journalists and members of the media with an opportunity to raise awareness about people within their own communities who have been affected, in any way, by the epidemic.
The Candlelight Memorial began in 1983 during a time of confusion and misconception about a mysterious disease sweeping the gay community in San Francisco in the United States. Knowing they would die within the year and with no political support, four young men – Bobbi Campbell, Bobby Reynolds, Dan Turner and Mark Feldman – decided to put a “face on the disease” by coordinating a small vigil behind a banner reading “Fighting For Our Lives.”
The original coordinators planned a march down the Castro District to City Hall and created a poster. As others joined in, the Candlelight drew thousands, beginning a movement that would inspire countless other people living with HIV and AIDS in other countries to bring HIV into the light for communities and national leaders, to foster support, and move people to action.
Since that day, the Candlelight Memorial has brought together people in every region of the world to honor those lost to AIDS, support people living with HIV and demonstrate the importance of civil society, which plays a central role in HIV treatment, prevention, care and support. Organised annually on the third Sunday of May, over time tens of thousands Memorial events have been held involving millions of people.
In 2011 the International Candlelight Memorial returned where it started, again hosted and coordinated by people living with HIV, through the Global Network of People living with HIV. In the vision of the Global Network of People living with HIV, the Candlelight remains one of the most important civil society-led efforts against HIV and AIDS as it demonstrates the invaluable role of communities, including people living with HIV and affected by HIV.
In 2017 International AIDS Memorial Day in USA falls on May 21.