This week, Lloyd Russell-Moyle made headlines across the country for having the courage to stand up in the House of Commons and tell the world that he is HIV positive.
The representative for Brighton Kemptown is the first MP to reveal his HIV status in the House of Commons.
In his speech he said “I finally wanted to be able to stand in this place and tell all those out there living with HIV, that their status does not define them.
It was a beautiful and moving speech, full of courage and it was wonderful to hear Lloyd speak about how being HIV Positive is not a death sentence and is in fact a manageable condition.
In Northern Ireland, our collective knowledge of HIV seems to still be based on the 1980’s advertising campaign, with John Hurt’s dramatic voiceover and those great falling tombstones which were so effective at instilling fear. One of the unintended consequences of that advertising campaign is that today there is some deeply embedded misinformation about the reality of living with HIV and this has created a pervasive stigma around the condition.
We need education and awareness raising relevant to 2018 that updates the outdated 1980s information, busts the myths to end stigma that prevents people talking about sex, making pro-active positive choices about HIV testing and practicing safer sex.
We need a strategic cross-departmental approach with appropriate levels of investment in a consistent and on-going approach to public awareness to debunk the myths surrounding this albeit manageable, still life-changing condition.
We need to ensure that anyone who is sexually active has the knowledge to make informed decisions to own and look after their sexual health.
Our service users tell us that one of the most challenging aspects of living with HIV is not the condition itself, but the stigma associated with it. We know that discrimination against those living with HIV in Northern Ireland is widespread with many feeling marginalized.
It is great to see the positive reaction to Lloyd’s speech, but it would be so much better if such a speech did not require such courage, if we lived in a world where HIV is treated no more or less significantly than any other long-term condition.
This World AIDS Day we must remember those who face discrimination every single day for being HIV Positive and commit to fighting for a Northern Ireland, a UK, a world, where Lloyd’s revelation will no longer make headlines.