The Key West AIDS Memorial was built with private funds and donated to the City of Key West in 1997. At the time of its dedication ceremony, held on December 1 on World AIDS Day, the Memorial included 730 names.
It might be hard to understand today, but on an island of less than 25,000 residents, AIDS and HIV had a devastating impact including the loss of over 700 friends and neighbors to AIDS related illnesses in only a few short years. No segment of the island’s community was spared as prominent business owners, housewives, Conchs, service men, gay and straight alike contracted the dreaded disease.
Not only was Key West battling an epidemic few people understood at the time, but it was also becoming a refuge for hundreds of people who were diagnosed elsewhere but felt they could not remain at home in what many considered to be hostile environments. So they moved to Key West, which drove the “real” numbers much higher and put an overwhelming strain on the medical resources of the tiny island community.