Gay men’s health charity GMFA has launched a new video campaign shining the spotlight on men living with HIV.
The video, Living With HIV, features eleven gay men who are living with HIV and still living their lives to the fullest – without allowing stigma to affect their lives.
In the clip, the men discuss how HIV hasn’t stopped them from living their dreams – whether that is through the career they wanted, the sports they play, the people they love or their sex life.
One of the stars, Paul, said: “I’ve been positive for 15 months now (undetectable for 11).
“I have friends who worked in sexual health so knew the basics about HIV and treatment etc, but still found help and comfort in videos and campaigns. I wanted to help give back and let others know it’s ok and you can keep going despite your status.
“This is also my way of ‘coming out’ of the HIV closet, I have friends who know about my status and I don’t keep it secret but I still feel nervous whenever I tell someone new.
Another participant, James, added: “The diagnosis and everything that was going around that time was far, far from plain sailing but through it all I developed an outlook on life that I’m now working towards sharing with the world.
“Stigma only exists if it is exists inside of yourself. Those who understand the subject will stand with you. Those who don’t won’t. The only thing separating the two is a difference in education.”
GMFA’s Interim CEO, Ian Howley said: “HIV stigma is still a massive issue for those living with HIV.
“In 2016, people living with HIV should not be feared or made to feel ashamed for having the virus.
“Although recent work by GMFA and others has helped shift some of the stigma associated with the virus there is still a huge mountain to climb.
“In our recent survey, 90% of the HIV-positive men said they believe that stigma about HIV is likely to discourage gay men who’ve tested positive from disclosing their status to others (friends, family, sex partners, etc.) – and 75% are themselves reluctant to tell others for fear of stigma.
“For HIV stigma to be truly banished, attitudes within the gay community and beyond must continue to be challenged in order for them to change. HIV stigma doesn’t just affect those living with HIV but also those who are afraid to test for HIV because they’d ‘rather not know’. This type of attitude can be dangerous and lead to late diagnosis (meaning less effective treatment and more chance of passing on HIV to others).
“Shining the spotlight on the subject of HIV stigma through campaigns like this will help towards creating a shift in consciousness, attitude and understanding of the prejudices faced by those living with HIV. That said, there is still more work to do until we get to the point where we respond to, and accept, someone living with HIV in the same way we would respond to someone living with diabetes.
“It will be a long time before someone will be able to go a whole year without encountering stigma, but I hope that the more we focus on empowering gay men living with HIV to take control of their lives, stand up to HIV stigma, the fewer people there will be who will continue to hold such ignorant and stigmatising views.
“This campaign is all about empowering gay and bisexual men living with HIV to stand up and show our community that HIV is something that is a part of them, not who they are as people and doesn’t hold them back.”
GMFA is also asking others to come out of the ‘viral closet’ by shining a positive light on their life with HIV, using the hashtag #LIVINGwithHIV.