Patrick O’Connell, a venerable AIDS activist and creator of the iconic red ribbon creating awareness about the disease, has died at the age of 67.
O’Connell passed away of AIDS-related causes on March 23, his brother Barry confirmed to The New York Times.
Having lived with HIV for over 40 years, O’Connell spent much of his life campaigning to better educate the public about what it means to live with HIV/AIDS.
For much of the 1980s, his life was filled with rented black funeral suits and friends fearful of what was then a death sentence diagnosis. By the end of the decade, AIDS had become the leading cause of death for men aged between 25 and 44.
In 1991, O’Connell formed Visual AIDS, a collective of artists and advocates who used a borrowed art gallery space to design exhibitions that forced the public to reckon that the disease.
At the time the White House, under the H.W Bush administration, was indifferent about the disease and treated it as a punchline rather than a public health emergency.
Due to the lack of response from the government O’Connell came up with a small way to encourage the world to reckon with the disease that was destroying so much of the LGBT+ community – a red ribbon.
That same year he launched the Ribbon Project and with it, an unwavering and defiant symbol of AIDS activism which still lives on today.
O’Connell’s death comes after that of Larry Kramer, the ACT UP agitator who fought against policy-makers to take the disease seriously, and Nita Pippins, who was something of a mother figure to countless AIDS patients.