AIDS Vancouver recognizes “heroes" at inaugural Red Ribbon Awards

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      AIDS Vancouver recognized some of its “unsung heroes” at an event marking the organization’s 30th anniversary Tuesday (July 30).

      Founders Noah Stewart and Gordon Price, physician and former board member Brian Willoughby, 87-year-old volunteer May McQueen, and the late Bob Tivey, who was the first executive director of AIDS Vancouver, were all recognized as part of the inaugural Red Ribbon Awards.

      "It’s all about the history of AIDS Vancouver, and the pioneers that really worked and fought and advocated for services and for treatment," Brian Chittock, the organization's executive director, said in an interview. “They were there at the beginning, in the early years, when it was a huge battle."

      Chittock, who was living in Edmonton at the time, recalled how "horrific" that battle was. 

      "People were just suddenly becoming infected and dying all around us,” he said. “So those people stayed there and they’re still here today. They’re doing different things, but they really set the foundation for the movement.”

      Chittock noted that significant medical progress has been made for people living with HIV since the organization was founded three decades ago. But there remains “a lot of stigma” and misinformation around HIV, and a lot of progress to be made, he added.

      “From the areas that really are the direct result of why we have HIV being so prevalent, the social determinants of health, we’re not making any headway,” he said. “People living in poverty, people who have addictions…people who have to move from multiple locations, don’t have stable housing, those three contribute significantly to people being more vulnerable to HIV. So until we as a society address those issues, we’re still going to have HIV infections.”

      Throughout the last month, AIDS Vancouver has been issuing a video each day as part of its 30 30 campaign, featuring speakers including McQueen, who has been volunteering with the organization for 21 years, founders Stewart and Price, B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director Micheal Vonn, and Julio Montaner, the director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

      “It turned out to be a campaign around everyone that was working in the HIV movement, not just AIDS Vancouver,” said Chittock. “So it’s a very inclusive project, and it’s a wonderful history of what has happened over the past 30 years in HIV in Vancouver. And certainly AIDS Vancouver has played a significant role in that, but we’re not the only players.”

      The final video, released at the event Tuesday night, focuses on Vancouver’s contributions to the HIV/AIDS movement.

      “From Bob Tivey to Gordon Campbell to [former chief public health officer] John Blatherwick, to the doctors, to all of the people who contributed, that was something that reflected this city, this culture, this place—something anyone who was involved has a right to feel proud of,” Price, a former city councillor, says in the video.

      “I’m glad to be a Vancouverite—we’re an activist bunch of people, and we have gutsy public officials and gutsy scientists who don’t sit back and take no for an answer,” adds Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry.

      The Red Ribbon Awards will become an annual event as part of AIDS Vancouver’s Red Ribbon Campaign each November.

      “It will be any number of awards that the committee decides they wish to honour, and it’ll bring us right up from the past to the present, because there’s a lot of heroes today that are doing amazing work in HIV,” said Chittock.

      All of the videos released as part of the 30 30 Campaign can be viewed on the AIDS Vancouver website.