Founders of UK’s first HIV charity awarded OBEs in Queen’s birthday honours

The co-founders of the Terrence Higgins Trust have been awarded OBEs in the Queen’s jubilee birthday honours.

Rupert Whitaker and Martyn Butler were awarded OBEs for services to charity and public health, for their role in the UK’s response to HIV.

They founded the Terrence Higgins Trust in 1982 after the death of Terry Higgins, one of the first people to die of an AIDS-related illnesses in the UK. Higgins was Whitaker’s partner, and a close friend to Butler.

When Higgins passed Whitaker was not only left to cope with a broken heart but also his own HIV diagnosis. At the time, he was told he had months to live, but today he lives a happy, healthy life thanks to medical advances.

Since the 1980s the Trust has grown far bigger than Whitaker or Butler might have imagined.

When the charity was founded, Butler gave his personal phone number as a helpline and held meetings of the Trust at his flat. Now, it is the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, supporting people living with HIV, providing testing and working to end new transmissions of the virus.

In response to being awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours, Whitaker said: “I’m deeply honoured for my work to be recognised in this way.

“We’ve come a very long way since Terry’s death 40 years ago and the darkest days of the HIV pandemic, and I’m glad to have played a part through co-founding Terrence Higgins Trust and my community-work internationally, as well as my public health and medical work professionally.

“This award recognises work that many, many of us have done over the years and I hope it encourages us all to continue to fight for respect and inclusive change, crucial work that, more usually, remains unnoticed.”

Butler said: “I would like to dedicate this honour to all of the millions lost to HIV, including my dear friend Terry who we lost forty years ago. After Terry died we knew we wanted to do something to help others and stop more people from dying like he had.

“I’m deeply proud of the legacy we have given him and for Terrence Higgins Trust’s role in this country’s HIV response.”

Ian Green, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said it is “absolutely fitting” to see the co-founders included in the Queen’s birthday honours.

“Forty years ago Rupert Whitaker and Martyn Butler altered the course of the HIV epidemic by founding Terrence Higgins Trust and, in doing so, saved countless lives,” he said.

“It is absolutely fitting to see our charity’s founders honoured in this way as we approach the 40th anniversary of Terry’s death and the founding of Terrence Higgins Trust in his memory. We thank Rupert and Martyn for turning a personal tragedy into a pioneering response that continues to change lives four decades on.”

In addition to their OBEs, Butler and Whitaker were also given a lifetime achievement award at London’s Rainbow Honour Awards on Wednesday night (1 June), presented to them by Stephen Fry.