Today, December 1, CUPE Ontario recognizes World AIDS Day and the start of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week. It is a time to remember the millions who have been lost to AIDS and that the pandemic is still in our midst; the fight against AIDS and HIV requires our attention and our activism.  We steadfastly reaffirm our commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with all allies, championing the rights of individuals grappling with HIV/AIDS and advocating for enhanced health services and treatments around the globe.

The theme of this year’s World Aids Day is Let Communities Lead, highlighting the importance of responding to the local needs for those living with, at risk of, or affected by AIDS/HIV. The theme also provides us an opportunity to honour those CUPE Ontario workers who tirelessly provide services and support to people living with HIV/AIDS; we join them in demanding more and better services for the people who rely on them.

These dedicated workers deserve better too; their employers are too often precariously and poorly funded, thanks to the terrible choices made by successive provincial governments, including Ford’s PCs. This dire state of affairs is reflected in the pay and working conditions of frontline workers. They need our support for the vital work they do – without them, the work simply could not happen.

The theme also reflects the history and reality of AIDS activism: all the supports and services that exist today were only created because of community activism – people at the grassroots, forcing governments and health care institutions to deal with an unfolding crisis that, at the time, was being ignored due to discrimination and stigma.

Our union has a proud history of defending the rights for persons with HIV/AIDS. We continue this work in our fight against all forms of discrimination, including homophobia, transphobia and racism. It essential to name this reality, since barriers to treatment and support still exist for those who are Indigenous, who are women, who are Black and racialized, who are newcomers, or who have disabilities. Our work, our solidarity and support are, all dedicated to removing those barriers and ensuring that everyone affected by AIDS and HIV receives the support and assistance they need, and that we have the sexual education and public health supports necessary to put an end to this disease, not only here but around the world.

Today let us honour those whom we have lost, by strongly and forcefully recommitting to fighting for a more just future; and by connecting the struggles against racism and homophobia to the struggle for public health care and public pharmacare.

As we affirm our support for the ways communities lead on this work, let’s remember our role as a union in our communities, and remember our work is not only in our neighbours, but for communities everywhere across the globe.