World AIDS Day: HIV activists stage powerful ‘die-in’ amid ‘united anger’ over Tory cuts

Activists lie down in Trafalgar Square holding cardboard gravestones with messages saying "cuts = coffins", and "queer people are dying" on World AIDS Day

HIV/ AIDS activists have held a “die-in” at London’s Trafalgar Square to mark World AIDS Day, sending a “clear message that we are here, united in anger, ready to continue the fight”.

The die-in was organised by ACT UP London, the capital’s branch of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which was founded at the peak of the AIDS crisis in 1987.

Die-ins were a common action used by activist groups in the ’80s and ’90s to paint a picture of the loss of life and spur governments into action.

This week’s die-in, 12 years into a Conservative government, is a “nod to the past and a warning about repeating it”, Claudia, an activist with ACT UP London told PinkNews.

“For more than a decade, the government has been slashing budgets and taking away funding that has hamstrung communities’ abilities to address, prevent and better manage health conditions like HIV,” they said.

“Sexual health and education are already neglected and this new era of austerity, known as ‘austerity on steroids’, is bound to widen inequalities and endanger millions of lives.”

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Activists in Trafalgar Square lay on the ground on World AIDS Day, holding cardboard gravestones emblazoned with messages like “cuts = coffins”, and “queer people are dying”.

An activist holds a sign which reads: "God save the queer"
Die-ins were popular actions during the ’80s and ’90s AIDS crisis. (Holly Buckle)

Claudia pointed to the National AIDS Trust’s recent Not PrEPared report, which showed that “the most common waiting time for a PrEP appointment at a sexual health clinic was 12 weeks”.

“We also know from the government’s data that testing rates dropped by 20 per cent in comparison to pre-pandemic ones in all groups apart from gay and bisexual men, data that also uses antiquated binary options for gender and fails to investigate racial and ethnic minorities discrepancies, making this an incomplete picture of reality,” they continued.

“Stigma is also rife and has a significant impact on mental health yet access to services is challenging and low knowledge and understanding of HIV among healthcare professionals prevents many living with HIV from even seeking help despite the fact that they are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.”

ACT UP London also wants to highlight the impact of the government’s “hostile environment strategy”, which aims to stop undocumented migrants from accessing public services like healthcare to make life in the UK impossible, and therefore increasing the number of people in the country living with HIV undiagnosed.

Claudia said: “This is combined with the considerable impact of COVID-19 on prevention, testing, diagnosis and treatment… and the continued disinvestment in sexual health services for women, LGBTQ+ people, migrants, people living with addiction and other historically marginalised communities.

“The result of 12 years of this, it feels like Britain’s been on autopilot with all dashboard warning lights on.” 

An activist holds a sign which reads: "Stop rainbow washing, queer people are dying"
The powerful World AIDS Day protest saw participants bring cardboard gravestones. (Holly Buckle)

ACT UP London is calling on the Conservative government to implement a wealth tax on corporate profits and the top 5 per cent of earners instead of public spending cuts, because “those hoarding wealth should pay their fair share”.

The activist group also wants to see the pharmaceutical industry take responsibility for “unfair medicine pricing, corporate tax inversion and deception about research and development costs”.

But ACT UP London is not hopeful that change will take place under our current government, and told allies of those living with HIV/ AIDS to support them by “voting responsibly in ALL elections and not sitting idly, especially from a position of privilege”.

“The aim of any protest is to never have to do it again, but from Thatcher to Sunak, we see that is not the case yet,” said Claudia.

“We want the die-in to send a loud and clear message that we are here, united in anger, ready to continue the fight and we are welcoming anyone who wants to join the movement. 

“The simple fact that the prime minister’s excuse [for not even wearing a World AIDS Day ribbon] – ‘he doesn’t believe in wearing things on his lapel’ – can be debunked with photos from just a couple of weeks ago tells us everything we already knew.”

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