Hamish MacKenzie-Sempill (columnist):
For me World AIDS Day is a day of focus and solidarity for those of us living with HIV, it’s not for people who are HIV- to donate, put a ribbon on a feel a little bit better about themselves. It’s a day of visibility for the millions of people in a wealth of different situations to acknowledge one another and stand up against sitgma and ignorance. We can use the day as a way of communicating information to people to help build understand of HIV, and as way of remembering those we’ve lost to the virus.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to live in a country and city where the HIV care for people like me is amazing. It’s not something I reflect on often, but it leaves me incredibly humbled that I have amazing support, treatment and knowledge right on my doorstep, which where the importance of fundraising comes in. Without the conjoined support of people everywhere the death-rate of those infected with HIV would be far higher. Supporting an HIV charity will be one of the best things you do with your day; listening to story of someone living with HIV will be the most humbling experience of your year.
Positive Luke (columnist):
World AIDS Day has never been a part of my life until now, I can probably count on one hand how many times December 1st has been mentioned to me throughout my life as a date of any significance. Never did I think such a date would ever play a role in my life, and now I find myself writing this, proudly wearing a red ribbon pinned to my jacket for all to see and question, medication resting on the table beside me.
For me World AIDS Day is now deeply symbolic and full of meaning. My tribute to the millions all over the world that have experienced the unimaginable, the horrific news that they are HIV positive. To those throughout the growing decades that have tragically succumbed to this terrible affliction. To those before me, who never had effective treatment, their lives instantly transforming into a ticking time-bomb; hoping and praying for a cure that never came, before it was their time to leave their loved ones along the dark path towards an inevitable early grave, filled only with suffering and regret. For those today, that still await access to life saving healthcare, only to be shunned by the capitalist world that deny them a chance at life, and for those whose admirable strength and courage prevailed overall on a daily basis . They battled all this, all this along with the inhumane stigma that surrounded each one of them. The stigma that still exists today. I wear my ribbon for them. I wear my ribbon for me. I wear my red ribbon to educate, to remind those who have forgotten about the recent past. I wear my ribbon for the present, the struggles that I, and 34 million others face daily. And above all…I wear my ribbon in hope; the hope for awareness, the hope for a cure and the hope for the universal change that the future of HIV is finally, coming to an awaited end for us all.
Andrew Cook (columnist):
In a way World AIDS Day means nothing to me, because I don’t have AIDS, but I’ve really thought about what it means to me.
My first thought is that it means “trying to help people in Africa”, because that’s what I think when I think AIDS – Africa. I think about people dying in abject poverty with scare means and precious little with which to afford medication to save their lives. We’re so luck in this country in that HIV meds are free – something we don’t really give a second thought. I then think about the cultural stigma attached to such a disease in such countries and the ignorance surrounding it. We’ve been shown thanks to Chris Moyles, Stephen Fry and others, how these terrible attitudes towards HIV and and the pretend “cures” cause harm. So my thoughts with respect to Africa are about smashing this stigma and allowing these people to feel able to seek help without being ostracised by their own people. Clearly education and an shift in cultural attitudes are urgently needed.
My thoughts on the situation closer to home is pretty similar to my earlier thoughts on Africa. Whilst things here in the UK are very different I’ve still encountered stigma, as do many others. The fear and worry when you have to “come out” to a partner or friend is still ever present. I’ve recently seen t-shirts for sale trying to dis-spell HIV stigma with witty slogans. My first reaction was a gut-wrenching chill as I imagined people’s reactions to me wearing one. But as I thought more about it I thought why shouldn’t I wear one? I’m not proud of being HIV-positive, but I am proud of working to fight stigma and change perceptions of people living with HIV. I’ve received both touching and unpleasant feedback to my columns on here, if World AIDS Day encourages people to visit sites like this and change their attitudes for the better, get tested or access treatment then I am, indeed, glad to be HIV-positive.
Tom Hayes (Editor-in-Chief)
I was diagnosed HIV-positive two and a half years ago and in that time I’ve been unfortunate enough to encounter all manner of stigma. I’ve been shunned by dates, abused on line, berated by HIV/AIDS denialists, insulted by doctors and shamed by GUM advisors. But I think the tide may be starting to turn. When I took to twitter in August 2011 looking for support after my diagnosis there were almost no publicly positive people. But little by little that’s starting to change. Over the last year or so I’ve seen more and more people, like myself, feeling able to be open about their HIV status online and I feel lucky to consider some of these people friends.
I’ve started, lately, to feel more and more disenfranchised with the big HIV charities. It feels more and more like they’re just pumping out the same tired rhetoric that they have done for years, whilst at the same time managing to engage less and less with the people actually living with HIV. These charities should be falling over themselves to snap up the new wave of confident and open HIV-positive people online. It’s us using the services, it’s us living with HIV – so surely we should have a say? Surely?
I sincerely hope that come next World AIDS Day I’ll be able to sat here telling you that things have changed. That we’re seeing better community engagement. We can but hope eh? Either way I’ll still be here, banging my drum – you can count on that.