Before I joined the organisation as an employee in August 2015 I was honoured to be asked to speak at the Terrence Higgins Trust Friends Dinner in London on June 11. Hosted by the wonderful Stephen Fry and with some fantastic entertainment from singer Heather Small the night was attended by some of the charity’s biggest supporters and was an experience I will never forget.
Below is a film produced by Reward Gateway for the evening which details my story with HIV and how the Terrence Higgins Trust’s myHIV service helped me grow into a stronger, confident and more determined person.
Following the film I was given the opportunity to say a few words:
I’m lucky to have been diagnosed in the UK, lifesaving drugs have been available to me since my diagnosis and enabled me to live a normal life. Regardless of my HIV status I’ve been able to progress in my career, I’ve an amazing boyfriend, and I’m living my dreams.
However, despite how lucky I have been, there have been challenges. Worrying about telling my friends and family about a condition I can live a normal life with should never have been a concern for me. Worrying that I might not be able to travel, hold down a job or find love should not be anything anyone has to suffer with. But I was lucky – I found Terrence Higgins Trust’s MyHIV service – if it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would have the confidence to be standing here now.
I am a firm believer that more people need to be tested to ensure no one ever has to ever worry or be scared of what others might think of them. This can only be achieved by tackling the issue of stigma that people living with HIV face on a daily basis.
I am living with HIV and I have a voice, and it’s only by using this voice that I am able to challenge AND change people’s attitudes and perceptions of HIV. But we need more voices, the HIV community lacks visibility and this must change.
You can’t treat stigma with a pill.
I believe we need to empower people living with HIV and give them the strength and confidence to use their voices, to speak up and be heard, to tell the world that they are positive, they are alive, they are strong and they are here to fight, they are here to help end HIV. This isn’t easy – when I chose to speak up not everyone was understanding, I’ve been called dirty, riddled, a slut, and people have made presumptions about my lifestyle because of my HIV status.
But we will only rid the world of HIV prejudice and discrimination by uniting as one HIV community, speaking out loudly and without shame.
I’ve not let HIV turn my dreams into nightmares; I’ve used it to dream bigger and better. And I want to see other people living with HIV do the same, to step out from under a shadow of fear and celebrate how strong, brave, unique and amazing they are.