I have a favour to ask…

Until a couple of weeks ago the phrase ‘It’s a sin’ brought memories of disco nights dancing to the Pet Shop Boys 1987 number one hit – yip…I’m really that old!

More recently though, it’s left me thinking about the characters of the Russell T Davies mini-series of the same name and reflecting on their experiences – testing; PPE; isolation; uncertainty; fear; ostracisation; loss.

I remember those days – the tombstone ad with John Hurt’s voiceover; the leaflet landing on the doormat; the ‘don’t touch’ and other inhuman messaging; and the debates with friends as we tried to understand how was it possible that this disease could be transmitted ONLY among gay men.

There were unusual conversations about ‘testing positive’, ‘passing it on’, ‘contamination’ ‘the gay cancer’ and we were advised not to die of ignorance.

Roll forward 30 odd years and we find ourselves facing COVID-19, with many commentators describing it as the pandemic of our generation.

It’s been a very strange time, with ‘normal’ life turned on it’s head.

We’ve had to stay at home and away from our friends and loved ones for fear of catching this deadly virus. When we do go out, we have to wear face coverings, sanitise, sanitise and sanitise some more.

There have been public information campaigns demonstrating how the virus can transmit as you make a cup of tea, and there has been a lot of – very often – confusing information around. And there’s talk about ‘testing positive’ and ‘passing it on’ and how you might kill your Granny.

Think about it for a minute…….what has your experience been over the last year?

Isolated at home and not able to go out to work, see friends and colleagues. Unable to visit your family or have the basic human comfort provided by a hug in a moment of stress or worry. No social events, weddings or trips to the cinema. Unable to grieve the loss of a loved one in the ‘normal’ way.

Stress, anxiety, fear.

As I reflect, I’m struck by the many similarities of the two situations, but mostly by a very obvious distinction.

Stigma – and the impact it can cause in the lives of anyone affected.

Still alive and well in some of the conservative communities that we live in, people are living in a bubble created by HIV where they have to contend with the opinions people have about them and how they live their life. Where they have to navigate the discrimination that manifests in everyday situations that, for example, prevent them from accessing life insurance. Where they’re frequently treated differently than before their HIV diagnosis. And where they have to think very carefully about who they share their diagnosis with – not just to protect themselves but to protect their confidante from guilt by association.

Many of our service users having been living this way since the start of the first pandemic of our generation – AIDS.

Please watch ‘It’s a sin’.

Get to know the characters, and think about the experience you’ve had with COVID-19 over the past year. Add stigma to the mix and hopefully you’ll have some insight into what it’s like to live with HIV in NI.

And with that insight, support Positive Life as we raise awareness, challenge the myths and move NI on to remove HIV-associated stigma.

And that brings me back to the favour I wanted to ask.