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Theatre, Music, etc.

Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 30, 2007

What happened to the red ribbon?

To support our troops, red, white, and blue. For breast cancer, itís pink. Iíve even seen ribbons and bracelets for college sport teams.

But it all started with a red ribbon to support AIDS awareness.

In 1991, a group of artists decided to use their craft to fight the virus that was killing so many of their loved ones. It was a process of elimination, but the color red was chosen because it had symbolic associations. It was also chosen because itís vibrant and attention-getting. Itís the color of blood, and the color of passion.

The group had contacts on Broadway, and the Tony Awards were just around the corner. They made 3,000 red ribbons and delivered them to the theater where the Tonys were being presented.

On national television, Jeremy Irons stepped out, a red ribbon prominent on his lapel. At the Tonys that year, everyone wore it.

The red ribbon quickly became a beautiful symbol of an ugly illness.

The red ribbon era was alive and very real. I remember as a kid in school that it was a big deal to wear the red ribbon for AIDS Awareness Week and I remember seeing the ribbon on the Academy Awards broadcasts.

Just as the ribbon had become a prominent part of fashion at the Tony Awards it quickly spread to the Oscars and celebrities would show their support by wearing proudly the red ribbon.

Since that time in my childhood, a lot has changed in the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Medical advancements have made it possible for people with HIV to live longer. AIDS is no longer the immediate death sentence it was at one time. And so the red ribbon era began to fade.

But what has not changed is the fear and stigma associated with the disease as well as the lack of public knowledge and education surrounding HIV.

I am 24 years old and have been living with HIV for three years. I am living in a society that has become silent about AIDS. As I sat down to watch to watch the Oscars and other awards shows in 2007, I had stuck in my head the image of the red ribbon and how once it was worn prominently, proudly in support and in memory of those we have lost. Now itís merely a faded memory.

Why have we become so silent about an epidemic?

Where is the support for the over 40,000 new infections each year in the United States or the 33 million infected worldwide? Why do we live in a country that could take just half a day of the money being put into the war in Iraq and provide access to HIV medications to all those who need it in the U.S. for a solid year, rather than sitting by and watching HIV-positive Americans die on waiting lists?

What happened to the red ribbon? Why did it fade?

Tyler Termeer is the director of programming for the Ohio AIDS Coalition.


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