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  • Leicester AIDS Support Services and Trade Sexual Health were founded in the late 1980s to reduce the spread of HIV and to support those diagnosed with the virus
  • Princess Diana visited LASS in 1991 and Prince Harry visited in 2017, as part of their powerful work to reduce stigma against people with AIDS
  • Leicester's dedicated HIV officer Warren Wiesner was a highly respected activist who died in 1994 of an AIDS related illness

A New Deadly Disease

In the early 1980s awareness of a disease, caused by the HIV-1 retrovirus, began to grow. It became known as AIDS. Deaths were occurring across America, mostly amongst gay men. The first UK death from AIDS was recorded in 1981.

The 1980s brought many challenges for the gay community. Media reports referred to AIDS as the 4H disease affecting “homosexuals, Haitians, heroin users and haemophiliacs” and awareness campaigns were designed to scare people. The most notable was the national ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign, which featured the infamous ‘Monolith’ advert that was accompanied by a leaflet sent to every household. The 1988 Section 28 law also banned the “promotion of homosexuality”, making support for the gay community less visible.

A timeline of international and local events in the HIV and AIDS Epidemic

Local Support

A local helpline to support gay people was created in 1976. In 1981 it became the first “LGB” organisation to receive UK public funding. Today it is the Leicester Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre. The late 1980s saw the foundation of Leicester AIDS Support Services (LASS), and Trade Sexual Health, originally set up as action group as part of the LGBT Centre. These organisations worked to reduce the spread of HIV, through awareness and sexual education, providing HIV testing services and to help people living with HIV and AIDS in Leicester and the wider region.

The LGBT Centre’s first office location on King Street, 1982

As part of her powerful work to reduce stigma against people with AIDS, Princess Diana shocked the world by shaking the hand of a patient whilst opening the first dedicated HIV/AIDS hospital unit at London Middlesex Hospital. Princess Diana visited LASS in Leicester in 1991, and Prince Harry continued this legacy by revisiting the charity in 2017.

Leicester City Council appointed a dedicated HIV officer, Warren Wiesner, who went on to become the Leicestershire Health AIDS Co-ordinator. He was a highly respected activist who helped to produce information campaigns to spread awareness of the HIV virus and to promote gay rights within the city. He died in 1994 of an AIDS related illness, aged 38.

Princess Diana shaking hands with 2 LASS workers, 1991

Acting Up

Internationally, the Act Up campaign was launched by the LGBT community in 1987. It fought for greater support from governments and health bodies to protect people from HIV and AIDS. Campaigners held dramatic protests and built-up expert knowledge about the disease.

In 1996, the number of new HIV cases declined for the first time with improvements to HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and treatment. Heterosexuals now contract HIV at a higher rate than gay and bisexual men in England. People living with HIV on effective medication now cannot pass on HIV and live a full life. The LGBT community’s response to HIV/AIDS has helped improve the experience and outcomes for everyone living with HIV.

Every year for World AIDS Day on 1st December, a Red Ribbon Remembrance event commemorates those lives lost or affected by HIV and AIDS in the Leicester community.

The contents of this page were produced in partnership with Trade Sexual Health; made for the Positive Leicester exhibition at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery in Autumn 2022.

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Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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