October 25, 1991: Today in LGBTQ+ history…
By Christopher Turner
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Diana, Princess of Wales famously did her part to help destigmatize HIV and AIDS by openly embracing AIDS patients around the world. In fact, in April 1987, when speculation around transmission of the virus was rife, Diana was invited to open Britain’s first HIV/AIDS ward at London Middlesex Hospital. A photograph from that day, which made front-page news around the world, showed her shaking hands with HIV-positive patients without wearing gloves. That simple action would publicly challenge the notion that HIV/AIDS was passed from person to person by touch.
In the following years, Diana went on to make headlines for several bedside visits she made to patients living with the disease at a number of hospitals around the world. During a 1991 visit to Canada – when she signed the famous Canadian AIDS quilt that was on display at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto – Diana also spent time on an unseasonably warm day in late October at Toronto’s Casey House, a hospice for people living with HIV that opened in 1988.
Media were to be excluded during Diana’s visit to the hospice on October 25, 1991, but there was one pre-arranged photo-op just inside the front door with a man, much marked by the disease but well enough to be out of bed. Instead of sitting in a chair, which had been placed a discreet distance from the man, Diana moved the chair closer, and put her hand on his. With the media gone but crowds gathering outside, Diana reportedly went from room to room and spent time with all 13 residents as well as all of the staff. She stayed longer than planned, and when the images from that day were published, they undeniably helped change the narrative of HIV and AIDS in Canada and beyond.
“Casey House continues to be thankful for Princess Diana’s historic visit,” Casey House’s CEO Joanne Simons tells IN. “It was a special moment for everyone in the house that day, particularly the clients in our care, and did much to dispel myths around HIV transmission. Unfortunately, stigma persists, so we continue to bring attention to misinformation about HIV and the impact it has on those who live with it.”
“HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug,” Diana famously said at the Children and AIDS Conference in April 1991. “Heaven knows they need it.”