By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
For the seventh year in a row, Grafton greeted the month of December by being decorated with dozens of hand-knit and -crocheted red scarves tied to porch railings, lampposts and trees along County Road 2, each with a little white card explaining that it was the volunteers’ way of spreading warmth and raising awareness on the occasion of World AIDS Day.
Volunteer Cathy White said her crew had tied everything up by 9 a.m., so that people passing through the village could see the red emblems hanging on both sides of County Road 2 and, if they turned south on Old Danforth Road, as far down the street as St. Andrew’s United Church.
“This is the day the world shows its support for people living with HIV/AIDS, and also remember those who have died from that,” White said.
The red-scarf initiative is undertaken in a number of communities, she pointed out. Barb Bryan – a Brighton resident who sits on the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network board – recalls seeing the scarves tied out in Ottawa during her university days. And for St. Andrew’s, White said, it’s the seventh year to spread the message in a Red Scarf campaign co-ordinated by St. Andrew’s United Church Social Justice and Outreach Committee in collaboration with PARN.
“Everybody can knit in that congregation, knit and crochet. They will start right after Christmas making scarves,” White said.
And in recent weeks, members of the congregation could view the information board she set out to refute the generally held opinion that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is over. In fact, White said, Canada saw 1,472 new cases in 2021, representing an 11.3% increase. And while many still think the gay community is most at risk, she continued, about one-third of cases in Canada are the result of heterosexual activity.
White had further statistics to share:
18.2% of new cases in Canada are among Indigenous people
22.6% are among those who inject drugs
32% are among females
Worldwide, HIV has claimed more than 40-million lives
At the end of 2022, there were an estimated 39-million people around the world living with HIV, a year in which 1.3-million new cases were reported
The stigma is still there, she said, making people – especially those in marginalized communities – reluctant even to be tested.
Bryan (who pointed out that PARN serves Peterborough, Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes, as well as Northumberland County) referred to the 95-95-95 concept PARN supports, the ideal being that 95% of those living with HIV being aware of their HIV status, 95% of those living with HIV seeking treatment, and 95% of those on treatment reaching low levels of viral load in terms of HIV in the body.
This is possible because of the effective treatments developed over the years, White said. But they only work for those who seek out the treatment.
This year’s theme is Remember and Commit.
“Remember to support those with HIV/AIDS. The impact of the epidemic is so profound – individuals, families and entire communities. Remembering lost lives not only honour their memory but emphasizes the urgency of our commitment to end this epidemic,” White said.
The Commit part “emphasizes that everybody continue working to make a difference.”
For some, this may mean taking the time to knit a red scarf or committing to take that all-important test. PARN is making this easier by offering home tests, and then continuing to fight isolation for these members of the community with education and support. In Cobourg, there’s a PFLAG chapter (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). In Brighton, work is being done to establish a Rainbow Centre in support of LGBTQ youth.
“There’s so many pieces that come with a diagnosis,” Bryan said.
“We want counselling to happen, we want support in place.”
Deputy Mayor Joan Stover appeared, already wearing her red scarf.
“On World AIDS Day, which is today, we raise our voices to remember those we have lost to AIDS, support those living with AIDS, and challenge the HIV/AIDS stigma,” Stover said.
“The red scarves are a larger representation of the red ribbon, the internationally recognized symbol of support and awareness.”
Mayor John Logel, who picked out his red scarf from the ones hanging near Grafton’s municipal building, thanked St. Andrew’s for its commitment to World AIDS Day and social justice.
“Many thanks to all the ferocious knitters and crocheters from St. Andrew’s,” Logel said.
“Many thanks also to our volunteers who are hanging those scarves in Grafton today, on Dec. 1. We have a huge display of red scarves to hang in Grafton on World AIDS Day, to show the community that St. Andrew’s and Grafton care.”