Britain’s first openly gay MP, Lord Chris Smith, has revealed the difficulties he faced about publicly disclosing his HIV status, including from the press, and what needs to be done for the future.
Speaking at a BNP Paribas Diversity Week event, the now Lord Smith of Finsbury said that he managed to persuade the Sunday Times not to publish an article about his status for two years.
Lord Smith had been asked how easy he found it for him to speak out about being HIV-positive, responding that it was “a whole lot more difficult” than he had anticipated.
He said: “One of the things that happened was the Sunday Times found out and they were going to run a story and I talked with the editor.
“This was a couple of years before I eventually decided to speak out about it. And I said, actually, I don’t think I’m ready to do this yet. I can absolutely promise you that when I am, I will come to the Sunday Times to do it but it is against the editorial code that you reveal someone’s health details without their consent, and I’d much rather you didn’t.”
It wasn’t until 2005 that the former Labour MP for Islington and South and Finsbury publicly revealed he was HIV-positive, becoming the first MP to do so.
Lord Smith told the audience that it had been Nelson Mandela’s speech on the awareness of the virus that made him want to go public, adding that the stigma around HIV can be defeated.
He said: “The way we really can confront HIV and AIDS is by talking about it, and by telling people about it”.