Charities love gimmicks: red noses for SIDS and daffodils for cancer to name but two.

Every charity nowadays seems to have a love affair with ribbons as well. Checked ribbons for remembering past police officers, green for the environment, pink for breast cancer, orange for multiculturalism and of course red for HIV – the latter to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS.

Hopefully on this World AIDS Day, Thursday, December 1, we will see red ribbons worn all over Victoria.

The uniquely Victorian Red Ribbon was the first ribbon and the forerunner for the multitude of ribbons that have proliferated in the community since the early 1990s.

It is different from most other ribbons as it is without the loop of ribbon at the top. The ribbon was designed this way by Melburnian Brent Lacey to stand out from the crowd.

Brent had seen lengths of red ribbon wound around trees and lampposts in New York commemorating and celebrating the lives of men and women lost to HIV/AIDS. His then partner was HIV positive. Brent wanted to celebrate his life and designed the Victorian Red Ribbon to raise both funds and awareness in the community.

The ribbon is designed as an inverted ‘V’ so that when a cure for HIV is discovered the ribbon can be turned upside down to be a symbolic ‘V’ for victory over HIV.

The visible safety pin where you pin the ribbon onto your jacket is an important symbol. In the early days before HIV’s cause had been discovered, the safety pin was used by people wanting potential partners to know they only had safe sex. That’s why the safety pin remains today as a reminder to practise safe sex.

The first batches of ribbons were made up by airline crew on layovers both here and internationally. As an airline steward, Brent knew crews had loads of in-between time when there was nothing to do if you had to be up early next day to crew a flight that could be going almost anywhere.

He also enlisted members of Melbourne’s leather community to help make the ribbons and to sell them in city streets and venues frequented by our gay and lesbian family.

In the first year several thousand of the ribbons were sold and a couple of thousand dollars was raised which was donated to the David Williams Fund (DWF). The DWF is administered by the Victorian AIDS Council and at that time all the money from ribbon sales was distributed to Victorians living with HIV who were in financial difficulty.

This World AIDS Day perhaps you can help to make a difference too.


By Tex McKenzie
Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre

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