Candlelight vigil honors those who died from HIV/AIDS

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About a couple hundred people gathered downtown Tuesday to commemorate those who have died from AIDS with a candlelight vigil, organized by Aunt Rita’s Foundation (Lerman Montoya/DD)

About a couple hundred people gathered downtown Tuesday to commemorate those who have died from AIDS with a candlelight vigil, organized by Aunt Rita’s Foundation.

The vigil coincided with World AIDS Day, which is held on the first of December every year. It’s part of a week of events working to unite people in the fight against HIV and AIDS, according to Aunt Rita’s Foundation.

Aunt Rita’s Foundation is a nonprofit agency aiming to be the catalyst of HIV/ AIDS awareness, education and support, according to its website. They have distributed funds to 17 organizations throughout the valley working to prevent or assist those living with HIV/ AIDS.

“I think there’s still a huge stigma about HIV and AIDS,” said Aunt Rita’s Executive Director Kit Kloeckl. “There’s only two ways you get it and that’s through sex or needle sharing, and those are two very uncomfortable conversations for people to have. So there’s always that stigma if you say that someone is HIV positive, you’re looked at and they know there’s one of two ways you got it.”

The vigil began at 6 p.m. with a walk from the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center on Second Avenue and McKinley Street to the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness on Central Avenue and Portland Street.

Candles were available for attendees at the Pride Center before the walk began, and First Lady Nicole Stanton spoke before the crowd that gathered.

“I think (the event) is very important to the people that are here,” Kloeckl said. “Probably most everybody here has lost someone, so it’s a way to remember.”

A screen stood in the parking lot of the center with names of those who have passed from AIDS projected on the screen. First Lady Stanton lit the first candle and then lit the candles of the other speakers.

World AIDS Day, which began in 1988, is a chance for people to support those living with HIV/AIDS. It allows people to commemorate those who have passed from the disease, nearly 35 million since 1981, according to Aunt Rita’s website.

Aunt Rita’s is also sponsoring 15 sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt which will be on display for three days this week. The 15 sections of the quilt, developed by the NAMES Project Foundation, consist of eight panels that are 3 by 6 feet. The quilt represents 120 lives lost to HIV/AIDS, most from Arizona.

The panels will be on display at the Red Brunch gala in Scottsdale. The gala, held on Dec. 5, is also organized by Aunt Rita’s. The event will honor the lives lost to HIV/AIDS and award funds to 17 member agencies.

“This is a great way to show my friends and family, those who are positive, this is my way to give back to them,” said Phoenix resident Robbie Fields. “There’s not much that I can do physically for them, but this is my way to show that support.”

Fields continued, “It’s just like the AIDS Walk, we all walk for different reasons and different causes but you also want to remember those who lost their life to the disease.”

Correction: Dec. 2, 2015:

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Mayor Greg Stanton spoke at the event. Stanton was scheduled to speak, but could not make the event.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that candles were available for sale. The candles were free of charge, but donations to Aunt Rita’s Foundation were accepted.

Correction: Dec. 4, 2015:

A previous version of this story stated the Red Brunch gala would take place on Dec. 5 downtown. The event will be held in Scottsdale on Dec. 6.

Contact the reporter at meagan.boudreau@asu.edu.