HIV activists on what it’s really like to be positive and why you must get tested
For World AIDS Day, PinkNews spoke to HIV+ activists who explained why you must get tested.
Jonathan Blake, 69, witnessed the AIDS crisis and became a founding member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Tom Hayes, 33, was diagnosed with HIV and now raises awareness about how being HIV-undetectable means you cannot pass on the virus through sex. Ant Babajee, 40, is a gay man campaigning for better mental health care for HIV+ people.
Despite how far treatment has come, it was only in 2017 that Avon and Somerset police falsely suggested spit hoods should be used to prevent the spread of HIV. In 2018, a study found that 21 percent of people mistakenly believe HIV can be passed on through kissing.
Jonathan, Tom and Ant break down the myths, open up about what it’s really like to live with HIV and explain why you should get tested. Order a free HIV self-test kit through the Terrence Higgins Trust.
What is it like being diagnosed with HIV?
Watch the video below to see Jonathan, Tom and Ant share the moment they found out they were HIV-positive and what life has been life for them since then.
Jonathan Blake, a founding member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, learnt that he was HIV-positive in the autumn of 1982.
“In those early days it was really dark. There was no medication, the right-wing press was just appalling [saying] we were like modern-day lepers, we should be incarcerated or sent away.
“Gay men were always put in side wards in those days so you wouldn’t contaminate anybody.
“They did the biopsy, it came back and it was HTLV3, which is what it was called then.
“The worst thing was that the other person who was in the same ward as me, I realised I had met in 1976 when I had been out on tour.
“I had had a fling with this man, and he was lying there basically on his deathbed.”
“There’s no such thing as a bad HIV test result. The only bad result is not knowing.”
— Tom Hayes
Tom Hayes was diagnosed in 2011 and Ant Babajee learned he was HIV-positive in 2007. Watch the video above to hear how they feel about being HIV positive.
Why should you take a HIV test this World AIDS Day?
“If you’re thinking about getting tested, go and do it, it’s never been easier. There’s no such thing as a bad HIV test result,” Tom Hayes said.
“If you test negative, that’s great because you now know that you’re negative and you can take steps to stay negative—be that PrEP, PEP, condoms or U Equals U.
“If you’re positive, that’s also a good result because you now know that you’re positive and you can get access to free, life-saving medication, which will make you healthy and undetectable so you can’t pass it on.
“The only bad result is not knowing.”
“Don’t stick your head in the sand—I know that HIV is a scary thing but actually it can be a lot less scary if you inform yourself and get tested,” Ant Babajee said.
Jonathan Blake reflects on how far society’s perception of HIV and AIDS has come. “Nowadays, since we have this battery of pills, I don’t understand what it is that stops people from taking the test,” he told PinkNews.
Order a free HIV self-test kit through the Terrence Higgins Trust. You can also get advice from I Want PrEP Now, Prepster who are running a PrEP for women campaign, and GMFA where you can read why black, gay men need PrEP.
World AIDS Day: How can we break down stigma around HIV?
“Talk about it,” Jonathan Blake said. “I want people to know there is life beyond the diagnosis and there is good life.
“I remember I had a very good friend who, whenever I would go round to eat with her, she would keep a special set of cutlery just for me. Those were the kinds of issues there were—people wouldn’t want to touch you.
“There was this amazing moment when Princess Diana went to Middlesex Hospital and shook the hand of someone with HIV.
“The very action that she touched his hand and wasn’t afraid made an incredible difference—it went global, it went viral and rightly so.
“I can’t say the Royal Family does a lot for me but that’s something I have to thank Diana for,” he laughed.
“The word that I hate the most when I’m on Grindr is the word ‘clean.’”
— Ant Babajee
Tom Hayes added that HIV should be “like any other medical condition” but stigma is what makes it difficult.
“Most medical conditions you don’t have to hide or keep a secret from your friends, family or colleagues. HIV is very different,” he explained.
“The stigma that surrounds HIV can stop people going for jobs, they can be rejected for relationships or sex.”
World AIDS Day should be a reminder that we need to support HIV positive people within the LGBT+ community, Ant Babajee added.
“The word that I hate the most when I’m on Grindr is the word ‘clean.’ I’ve had it a number of times,” he said.
“I’m really open about my status. The reason I am is that, if I don’t do it, then nobody does it and the conversation doesn’t change.
“I liken it actually to the stigma that often exists around mental health issues. We need, especially as a LGBT+ community, embrace people living with HIV—we won’t change things if we just push people into corners and stop them from coming out.”