6 November 2003

The Red Ribbon

World Aids day is December 1st, and upon this day many people will be taking steps to help increase the awareness of aids as an important global pandemic. One simple way to show your support of this day is to wear a red ribbon.


To have a better understanding of its origins one must look back to the year 1991. Originally it was conceived as “The Ribbon Project” by a New York based charity group of art professionals known as Visual AIDS. They aimed to recognize as well as give honor to those they had known who had suffered at the hands of AIDS. At the time, the inspiration for the Red Ribbons originated in light of many people wearing and creating yellow ribbons in honor of soldiers serving in the 1st Persian Gulf War. The decision to use the color red based on its “connection to blood and the idea of passion – not only anger, but love, like a valentine,” in the words of Frank Moore, member of the Visual AIDS group.

The Red Ribbon with its AIDS / HIV connotation really made the big time when Jeremy Irons who was hosting the Tony awards in 1991 wore one. Following this act, it soon became fashionable for various celebrities to wear the ribbons at other Awards ceremonies.

The other side of the coin of course, is that this heightened popularity was brought into question. Was the wearing of Red Ribbons by various celebrities merely a paying of “lip service” to various HIV and AIDS interests? It had been remarked at one point that during a public gathering, First Lady Barbara Bush was seen wearing a Red Ribbon while sitting with her husband in a crowd, while, when President went to give a speech, the First Lady at his side was noticeably missing her ribbon.

Today, most people in the United States are aware of the red ribbon and its meaning. While it may have had its HIV/AIDS roots born in 1991, it wasn’t until 1992 on an Easter Monday when at least 100,000 red ribbons were distributed at the Freddie Mercury AIDS awareness Tribute Concert at London’s Wimbley stadium. At the time, more than one billion people from all over the world, some 70 countries worldwide were witness to the spectacle on television. In London, on that day, Red Ribbon International was founded.

As of that time, in Europe many similar groups have founded in various countries following in the footsteps of the first European organization. The end of 1993 brought Red Ribbon Germany into existence and Germans were first introduced to it during the ZDF Pop Show broadcast all over Europe by German TV station ZDF in December of 1993. At the ZDF show, moderator Kristiane Backer explained the meaning of the Red Ribbon and in September of 1993 Red Ribbon Germany became a support group of the German Aids Foundation. Since 1993, this group has distributed over 10 million Red Ribbons across Germany.

Source: http://www.areyouhivprejudiced.org/One often encounters the suggestion to use the ribbon one wears as a source of conversation with those one may meet. Awareness being key, making conversation of one’s ribbon at an apt time and place can help to increase another person’s sensitivity to the plight of those working to combat the virus that causes AIDS. However, it might be noted that wearing a red ribbon has not always been an act done solely to highlight the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, nor something that started solely in 1991.

The HIV/AIDS red ribbon has also inspired another ribbon, the pink ribbon. The pink ribbon has become the symbol for breast cancer awareness. While breast cancer, just like AIDS isn’t just an issue that limits its self to the LGBT community, historically there have been higher statistics of breast cancer in women who do not bear children. In light of this for some lesbians, the cause for awareness and prevention is an issue of great import.