By Timothy Roberts

Since 1988, the world has come together on December 1 to mourn the loss and celebrate the lives of those who have battled HIV and AIDS-related illnesses, as well as to raise awareness about HIV. In Australia, early education campaigns assisted the control of HIV transmission, and governments strategised (sometimes prudently, other times unwisely) in an attempt to stem transmission rates.

Undoubtedly, it was the work of individuals in establishing and maintaining grass-roots organizations that ultimately ensured that HIV was dealt with sensitively in the community. Organizations such as the Queensland AIDS Council, Queensland Positive People, the Wattlebrae IDU at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, and Citizens’ Welfare Committee were staffed by countless volunteers and advocates, who ensured that those living with HIV, their families, and friends, were cared for and supported.

Not long after BootCo’s incorporation in 1990, the club joined in on fundraising efforts for those whose lives were affects by HIV and AIDS. BootAIDS was established to provide financial assistance to people living with HIV. Funds were raised through raffles, donations from other community groups including the Rangers Motor Club, and through the sale of helium balloons which were used in Pride March. Though in retrospect perhaps not entirely environmentally conscious, the object of purchasing the balloon was to release it, and remember a friend or loved one as it ascended into the stratosphere.

HIV had a major effect on Queensland’s (and Australia’s) leather community. One poignant reminder of this is the leather community’s memorial quilt, constructed by Gavin Kirkness in 1992 for the Australian AIDS Quilt project. Among the many inscriptions written on the Quilt during 1992 Leather Pride Week is ‘PETER WAKELING / MISS YA HEAPS / BOOT CO MEMBERS’. A BootCo patch also adorns one of the denim corners of the quilt. Other significant Queensland Leather Men who are memorialized in the Australian AIDS Quilt include David Kopp and Denis Finn.

Today, HIV continues to be a very real part of our community, but thanks to education and awareness, medications, and a better scientific understanding of the virus, living with HIV is much easier than it has been in previous decades. Furthermore, advancements such as the roll-out of PrEP trials across Australia will provide new options to prevent HIV transmission. Stigma remains a major hurdle in the fight against HIV, which is why participating in AIDS awareness activities and events such as World AIDS Day are so important.

This year, Brisbane’s World AIDS Day vigil will be held on 1 December in Redacliff Place at the top of the Queen Street Mall. It will not only be an opportunity to remember and celebrate the lives of those who lost a challenging battle, but also to visibly show support for everyone in our community, irrespective of their HIV status. BootCo. won’t be selling balloons this year, but while you are there, why not look up and imagine what wonderful things the future holds?