Why the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial matters

In the lead up to this Sunday’s event, we hear from the coordinator of LPV’s Candlelight Memorial, David O’Keeffe, who responds to the question – why does the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial still matter? 

It is nearly 40 years since the first AIDS Candlelight Memorial was held here in Australia. The day is one of the oldest grassroots led events that centered on the response to HIV/AIDS acknowledging those people who have lost their lives to AIDS. 

In Melbourne in 1984 Tom Carter and Phil Carswell stood out on a cold night in mid-May, to acknowledge those we had lost to AIDS. Phil Carswell has been a life-long activist in the gay community and was the first President of what was the Victorian AIDS Council (Thorne Harbour Health). Tom Carter was a sexual health nurse and contact tracer who was instrumental in helping to set up various support groups and organisations including AIDSLINE and People Living With HIV/AIDS (Living Positive Victoria). 

Phil Carswell recently provided us with his insight into why the Candlelight Memorial still matters. “Every year the AIDS Candlelight Vigil reminds me of three fundamental perspectives on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Firstly, remembrance of those we have individually and collectively lost, the searing pain of their bodies and minds being destroyed by such a hostile and relentless virus along with the shame and social disdain when bigotry was seen as acceptable and brutal discrimination was everywhere, every day. Secondly, I think about what sort of world we would have now if all those lost souls and their energy, imagination, intelligence, creativity, and caring were still alive, and we could hear their laughter around the kitchen table and their advocacy in the halls of power. Finally, the Vigil reawakens me to the continual need to not only mourn the dead (around 1800 people died of AIDS yesterday, somewhere in the world) but also to fight like hell for those who managed to survive. Our long-term survivor friends now face a cavalcade of new and unchartered issues and problems and seem to be slipping off the political radar just at the time when they need our support and solidarity the most. Raise a light against the darkness”. 

Over the years the Candlelight Memorial has changed with the times. From a very small beginning of two men holding candles, to thousands marching through the streets in the 1990s, to an event that is now streamed around the world. 

So, why do we have an International AIDS Candlelight Memorial in 2022? 

For one thing, HIV is still with us, and people living with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination based on their status. People living with HIV continue to fight for access to universal, comprehensive, and sustainable health care, treatments, and services.  

People living with HIV also experience discrimination and stigma in their relationships, whether from family members, friends, or lovers. The emotional and psychological burden of disclosure can be overwhelming for some in our community, making occasions where which we can gather to remember and support each other very important. 

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is a safe space for people to openly share their thoughts and emotions about what it means to live with HIV. As the Coordinator of the Positive Speakers Bureau at Living Positive Victoria I get to hear the many stories of people living with HIV have. “Some of these stories can fill your heart with joy, and also bring tears to the eye. It is in sharing these stories that we celebrate and commemorate the friends, family members and lovers we have lost to HIV. And imagine a better world in which our peers do not revisit some of the sorrow and pain of previous generations”. 

This year’s International AIDS Candlelight Memorial will see two brave young people, Stephanie and Clint, talk about their journey of living with HIV and how they have opened up to sharing their diagnosis to a wider audience. Their talks remind us that the fear of being rejected, thought of as less than equal or worthy still haunts so many people who live with HIV. The Candlelight Memorial reminds us that every person counts, each story needs to be heard, and that we share so much in common.  

Stephanie shared this insight as to why the Candlelight Memorial is important to her, “For me, as a new generation in this community, it’s important to reflect on the history that has been made, for us to be where we are today & to give tribute to those before us who have passed. That’s the importance for me and the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial”.  

Clint reflected on the following about the Candlelight Memorial, “As someone who lived in silence for many years, the candlelight vigil provided the opportunity to not only remember those we have lost, but to stand up as one of the remaining. The ones that still fight for the people living in the shadow of stigma. We are simple asking to be seen as human beings.”  

Sharing our stories help inform our response to HIV today. The wisdom the speakers reveal can provide us with new perspectives in how we respond to HIV and ensure that all of us live in a better world. 

Participate in this year’s event.



Living Positive Victoria acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We celebrate the stories, culture and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders of all communities who also work and live on this land.