It was with some trepidation that I decided to put together a Project for World AIDS day at Jubilee library, my place of work. I knew from the onset that I wanted the event to be as visual as possible to get a bigger reach as possible. My thinking behind this had been that if someone saw a leaflet about HIV/AIDS most people who HIV was not part of their lives would walk by, but if there was something of visual interest to catch their eye, then a conversation could be built on from there. Eric Page organised to have the Brighton Hankie Quilt hung in the main window of the library, Romany Mark Bruce kindly loaned us a miniature replica of his famous AIDS memorial statue, Tay and the David Fray put together a video highlighting the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Brighton, along with Romany’s journey in creating Tay. For my part I has intended to recreate a project that had run at Jubilee library before called, Living Library, where individuals living with HIV would sit in the library and members of the public could sit with them and hear their story. On the day my part of the event was set up in the Community Space at the back of the library along. Th space was set up for members of the public to join invited guests to talk about their experience of living with HIV. On elf the star speakers on the day was a woman called Sue from Positive Voices. Sue spoke out positively about living with HIV in a way I knew I wanted too. I found the event very empowering, but knew I was still anxious about speaking openly about my HIV+ status. This become extremely apparent to me when a television reporter from Meridian TV asked if I would speak to the camera. I calmed up and became so unsure about myself, I was happy to spaek to the people who had come to the library, but could don’t bring myself to broadcast such news to a wider public. Thankfully one of the people who came and talked stepped in.
After the event I was so pleased with how collectively we had been part of the wider collective HIV organisations who put on events throughout Brighton to remind people that HIV is a still an issue that needs to be talked about.
In my last column, I wrote about how their has been a steady change in segregation in the gay bars and clubs, with a younger generation seeing men only/women only places as a relic from the past. Although there will always be a need (I think) for some kind of segregation, we certainly have come a long way from the time I remember back in the 1980s, I can clearly remember some men being mortified if a woman wandered into their watering-hole and out would come the vile, flippant misogynist comment from some of the older gay men, with their description of lesbian’s as well, I’ll reinterpret the vile line as, ‘fruits de la mer’. There was also a pub in Hove tried to implement a policy were women were only allowed if they were accompanied by a gay man.
It would take the catastrophic horrors of AIDS to bring these two communities together which was recalled in the amazing documentary, We Were Here, about the arrival of the AIDS Epidemic in the USA. With an urgent need for blood transfusions, lesbians in California garnered themselves together and gave blood. Here in the UK, I remember many lesbians came forward to volunteer in any way they could to support the gay men who were suffering in large numbers to the horrifying effects of AIDS; along with an onslaught of hatred and stigma from the tabloid press which fed in to the fear and anxiety of the wider public.Thirty-four years on since, Terry Higgins, one of the first people to die from AIDS, we really have come along way with anti-retroviral treatments. The divisions within the LGBT community has shrunk considerably and when we work together we achieve amazing things as we will once again witness on December 1st, World AIDS Day. Unfortunately there is so much more to be done to tackle the stigma of living with an HIV+ diagnoses, particularly with HIV positive and HIV negative gay men.
For me, this issue has been brought sharply into focus with the increase of HIV+ dating apps. I really understand the need for such apps which allow HIV+ people to feel comfortable about their HIV+ status without fear of stigma or abuse but we are living in a time when we have a real opportunity to eradicate HIV through use of condoms, antiretroviral drugs, PrEP and a heavy dose of compassion.
HIV+ stigma seriously needs stamping out if we are to reach a time when HIV is assigned to the history books.
THT have been running a brilliant advertisement campaign, It Starts With Me, urging every sexually active individual to take responsibility for their own sexual health. Together as a community we can make a positive difference, if people change their negative attitude about those living with an HIV+ diagnose.
So from today let’s do that, let’s take responsibility for not only our individual sexual health, but start treating everyone with respect, regardless of their HIV status.
Please click the link below for my piece for Positive Nation, World AIDS Day, 2013.