Rock the ribbon

By Rebecca Westaway
Updated 3 December 2021

On 1 December every year, millions don a red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV, to mark World AIDS Day. This international day provides everyone with an opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. 

According to the National AIDS Trust, over 105,200 people live with HIV in the UK. Globally, this figure reaches 38 million, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Despite tremendous scientific advances, over four thousand people in the UK are diagnosed with HIV each year. World AIDS day serves to remind us all that HIV has not gone away and that there is still a critical need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.

This year marks 40 years since the first reported cases of HIV-related illnesses and deaths. Today 98% of people living with HIV in the UK are on effective treatment and 97% cannot pass the virus on.

How the red ribbon started

Free download from NAT

In 1991, a decade after the emergence of HIV, twelve artists gathered in a gallery in New York’s East Village to discuss a new project for Visual AIDS (a New York HIV-awareness arts organisation.) They came up with what would become one of the most recognised symbols of that decade: the red ribbon. HIV was highly stigmatised back then, and the suffering of communities living with HIV remained largely hidden. They chose red for its boldness and its symbolic associations with passion, heart, and love.

Employment and disclosure

According to the George House Trust (GHT), Many people living with HIV are concerned about HIV and employment.’ There is no legal obligation to tell an employer of an HIV diagnosis unless the individual has a frontline job in the armed forces or works in a healthcare role where they perform invasive procedures.

The Equality Act 2010 states that a person is ‘disabled’ if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Individuals with HIV/AIDS are covered by the Act from day one of their diagnosis. 

Responsible employers should ensure
they treat all employees fairly.

Reasonable adjustments

Research carried out by The National AIDS Trust (NAT) found that for most respondents, HIV had no impact on working life. A small proportion of respondents did, however, identify some reasonable adjustments to assist them at work. HIV medication can have some side effects such as fatigue, nausea, sleep disturbance and diarrhoea, which may require reasonable adjustments at work. In the vast majority of cases, reasonable adjustments are inexpensive and easy to accommodate.

Flexible working

NAT’s research also found that the most common requests were for time off to attend hospital and clinic appointments, flexible working, and requests to work from home occasionally. Most employers should find little difficulty in accommodating these adjustments, particularly since the far wider adoption of flexible working practices and the substantial shift towards home working since the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic.


An employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments also applies to the recruitment process and should consider the candidate’s concerns and sensitivities. Employers should carefully consider how they handle and respond to any information about someone’s HIV status or other disability. 

One meaningful way to encourage suitable applicants for jobs, including those with a disability such as HIV positive status, is clearly to signpost and then act on a commitment to diversity and equality. Employers displaying the ‘Positive About Disabled People’ or ‘Two Ticks’ logo as part of the job application process show their commitment to employing disabled people, including those living with HIV. 

Financial hardship

Often overlooked, people living with HIV are more likely to experience poverty, hardship and inequalities. If someone has to stop work or work part-time because of HIV, they may be entitled to one or more of the following types of financial support.

Spotlight on the work of Manchester organisations

We were interested in highlighting some of the great work being carried out here in Manchester. After featuring the University of Salford’s work for Black History Month we’re delighted to share the work of both the University of Manchester (UoM) and the Manchester Sisters.

University of Manchester

We spoke with Paul Marks-Jones, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Partner about initiatives at the university.

‘We recognise and embrace our diverse workforce at The University of Manchester, acknowledging many communities face different barriers and challenges. 

We have known the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS for many years, and we believe we have made a positive contribution to breaking down some of the myths surrounding the illness. We’ve also provided a positive and supportive environment for people impacted by HIV/AIDS – whether this is a direct or indirect impact for them.  

Since 2013 we have fundraised for various HIV/AIDS charities, recognising this is an illness that impacts many areas of society. Collaborations between our BAME, disabled and LGBT+ staff and student networks have gone a long way to reducing stigma and breakdown stereotypes. 

Over the years, we have had red ribbons available across all of our campuses, organised seminars and lectures on the evolution of HIV, organised bake sales and film screenings. In total, we have raised over £5,000 for HIV & AIDS charities. 

2020 and 2021 proved more challenging from a fundraising point of view. Still, we continue with our campaign via large screen displays showing that UoM recognises and supports World AIDS Day. Furthermore, we use a specially designed backdrop for those using video calls in meetings and signposting to the excellent support we have for people impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Manchester Sisters

We also spoke with Sister BangBang to learn more about the work of the Manchester Sisters in the community and beyond.

Sister BangBang is a member of a worldwide order of ‘queer’ nuns; the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Started in San Francisco in 1979 by a small bunch of human rights advocates, the Sisters have grown worldwide and today count thousands of members. Sister BangBang is part of a team of volunteers who get out and about on the streets of Manchester helping those in need and educating people on all aspects of caring for each other.

To support people living with HIV, Sister BangBang and her fellow sisters raise funds for the Manchester-based charity George House Trust (GHT). GHT is one of the longest-serving HIV charities in the UK providing support services to people living with HIV, their carers, partners and families across the North-West of England. The charity is also the proud recipient of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service —the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK

As well as shaking her bucket during each outing, Sister BangBang takes speaking engagements for companies large and small. Her most recent virtual engagement for a well-known multi-national software company not only helped to raise awareness among employees but also raised a substantial sum for GHT.

This World AIDS Day, Sister BangBang fronted a significant social media campaign, where she talk about being HIV and encouraged others to Go Red and stamp out stigma (in a fun way).

As Sister BangBang explains about her local community work, ‘It’s a strange but symbiotic relationship between us made up clowns and those who approach us on the street. People confide in us in so many ways. We offer a shoulder to cry on, a socially-distanced hug, and help in the form of a listening ear. Our brains are full of information about charities like GHT, LGBT Foundations, AKT or safe centres around the city if someone needs a professional to talk to’.

Sister BangBang encourages everyone to challenge negative-speak whether that be comments about, or to, a woman, a black person, a person with HIV or someone who is LGBTQ+. Marginalising others is all too easy in this day and age and there’s a saying ‘What you allow is what will continue.‘ She reminds us all that ‘freedom of speech doesn’t mean free reign, and urges people to call out negative-speak. “Don’t let your inaction condone discrimination or marginalisation.’

‘Fighting prejudice and stigma is something we can all do
regardless of our status, sexuality or whatever’

Sister Bang Bang

Commitment to equality & diversity

By marking World AIDS Day, employers can demonstrate a genuine commitment to equality and diversity and show customers/clients and employees they are an inclusive business/organisation striving to support people living with HIV.

World AIDS Day may fall once a year, but you can support people living with HIV all year round. Don’t limit conversations to one day er year. Organisations such as the Manchester Sisters rely on support to continue championing the rights of people living with HIV.

What initiatives does your organisation run?

Let us know in the comments below or drop us a line at


We would like to thank both Paul Marks-Jones and Sister BangBang for their contributions to our article marking World AIDS Day.

Paul Marks-Jones (He/Him)
ED&I Partner UoM

About Paul Marks-Jones

Paul is the ED&I Partner for FSE, The Library and other areas and has been a member of the team since December 2009. His work with the faculties and areas ensure they plan meaningful and important equality objectives which are in line with the overall strategic values of the University. 

Paul’s main activities centre around the coordination and direction of the staff network groups, their activities and strategies; online and face to face training delivery and coordination for the unit. 

He is the lead on the University’s Stonewall WEI application and has been instrumental in the University achieving a top 20 place and maintaining a Top 50 position in this national index. Paul was highly commended in the Making a Difference Awards 2020 for his contribution to the National Conference on Intersectionalities held in Manchester. He has also led a successful University-wide initiative to increase the provision of Universal toilets and welfare spaces on campus.

Connect with @Sister_BangBang (she)

About Sister BangBang

Standing at 6ft 3ins before she even gets her heels on, Sister BangBang is Mistress of the Media. She organises workshops, activities, fundraising missions and initiatives including feeding the homeless. She is dedicated to spreading joy, acceptance and equality in the LGBTQ+ community through her humour and positive action. A huge part of Sister BangBang’s work involves raising HIV awareness, helping to break down the myths and stigma surrounding those with the disease. She believes everyone should be accepted for who they are and wholeheartedly subscribes to the belief that coming together for a good cause benefits everyone’s health, confidence and overall wellbeing.

Further reading and resources


Explore the UK legal position on disability discrimination and the importance of making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees

National AIDS Trust resources for employers

George House Trust FAQs (Employment)

The Manchester Sisters

CIPD recommends

The following resources and services provide advice to organisations or support people with disabilities in the workplace. There are many other organisations offering detailed information and workplace advice about specific disabilities.

Acas – Discrimination, bullying and harassment

Acas – Disability at work

GOV.UK – Employing disabled people and people with health conditions

Equality and Human Rights Commission – Disability discrimination

Business Disability Forum

Disability Confident – a government national level voluntary initiative to engage employer action in progressing inclusive policies and practices for people with disabilities, which is supported by the CIPD

The Disability ClearKit – developed in association with the Department for Work and Pensions, is the result of three years in-depth research with 220 leading employers

Access to Work

Location Manchester, England E-mail Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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