Among this week’s Pride events is the 24th annual AIDS candlelight vigil, being held tonight to remember and celebrate the lives lost to the disease.
“The people of Toronto came up with the idea,” said Helen Rykens, AIDS Vigil Committee member. “It’s more than just a place for grief. People can come together to express their emotions and spread hope for a cure.”
The hour-long ceremony is taking place at the AIDS Memorial in Cawthra Square Park, behind The 519 Church Street Community Centre.
The memorial displays 2,705 names — 33 of which were added this year — of those lost to AIDS.
“It’s a touchstone — a physical reminder of loss,” said Jocelyn Watchorn, AIDS Vigil Committee volunteer.
The 33 names were submitted by family and loved ones. The candlelight vigil will include a reciting of the names followed by a moment of silence.
“The candles symbolize loss and grief, but also hope and optimism. The spreading of light brings the disease out of the stigma and darkness,” said Watchorn.
There will be an additional 15 candles lit during the ceremony to represent different Toronto communities affected by AIDS.
This year’s focus for the vigil is “Youth,” emphasizing young people who are living with and affected by AIDS.
But, the vigil is not only for one community, according to Watchorn.
“Attending the event and seeing it’s not just an event for the gay [community], every walk of life is represented. Loss is a universal phenomenon and HIV is universal,” she says.
To represent Toronto’s diverse communities, the committee selects different musical and spoken word performers. This year includes performances by Splash, from the Etobicoke School of the Arts, The Mayfield Music Theatre Ensemble and Gays Lesbians of African Descent.
The vigil is being hosted by Lisungu Chieza and Barry Freedman, both activists for HIV and AIDS.
To help raise money for The 519 Centre’s free events, “Starry Night,” a beer garden fundraiser, is being held tomorrow at 8 p.m.
The fundraiser, also being held in Cawthra Square Park, will feature celebrity bartenders including 2008 Pride Parade Grand Marshal Enza “Supermodel” Anderson, Adamo Ruggiero from Degrassi: The Next Generation and many more, with all bar proceeds going to the 519.
“It’s for people to get together before the craziness of Pride weekend,” said Eric Berndt, Manager, Resource Development and Communications at The 519 Centre.
>> The annual AIDS candlelight vigil takes place tonight from 9-10 p.m. behind The 519 Community Centre. For more, go to www.the519.org or call 416-392-6874.