The handful (literally) of gay male friends that I do have, are all HIV-. So as an issue, HIV/AIDS has not left any marks or memories on my life.
Before I go on, I feel like I should almost apologise in advance for this article. I’m going to be honest and sometimes, the truth isn’t pretty, or politically correct. But my intention in writing this, is to in a very small way and as a very small first step, open the door to increased understudying and inclusivity of this complex issue. And unlike every other article I’ve ever written where I’ve hoped to reach others, with this one, I feel like I’m writing the words that I need to read and hear for myself.
My lack of knowledge and general awareness about HIV/AIDS really struck me as I watched this week’s episode of the Australian TV panel show ‘QandA‘. The episode was entitled “Living with HIV, Looking to the Future”. The episode tied in to the 20th International AIDS Conference, which for the first time was being held in Melbourne, Australia.
I learned a lot of things watching this particular episode including:
- HIV/AIDS transmission rates are at a 20 year high in Australia. This really blew me away, as I thought that new HIV/AIDS transmissions were decreasing, almost non-existent even.
- The Australian National Curriculum doesn’t include any sex education. In 2014, I thought this would have been almost mandatory, Given the access to technology kids and young people have these days, how can the education system not be addressing sex?
- The Abbott-led conservative government has pledged $200 million to the Global AIDS Fund, which is a pretty amazing thing and hey, it’s important to give credit where credit is due.
- The language around a cure for AIDS is changing. It seems that AIDS remission and management is where the focus is at the moment.
- Our general understanding of PEP and PrEP is woefully lacking in Australia. It’s part of a bigger picture that as a society, we’re incredibly immature and ill-equipped to discuss and deal with matters relating to sex in a mature, adult way.
As a regular viewer of the show, I thought this episode was by far the best of the year. The panel were intelligent and enlightening. One panel member in particular, Nic Holas (second from left above), really resonated with me. Nic is a HIV activist and co-founder of The Institute of Many. He spoke in a really clear and articulate way. He took notes and he really listened to the other panelists as well, which I thought were really respectful and thoughtful things to do.
But maybe the one thing that struck me more than anything else about him is that he was young, or at least, younger than me. (I don’t know his exact age, but he looks like he’s in his 20s. I’m 33).
For me personally, HIV/AIDS is so tied in to the late 80s/early 90s. I remember being a kid and the Grim Reaper ad campaign scaring me (and most of my family too). I guess I think/thought of HIV/AIDS as something that gay men got ‘back then’. That would mean that today, these gay men would be in their late 40s, 50s and older. In my mind, HIV/AIDS was something that the generation before me was dealing with, not something that the generation after me still was.
Seeing and hearing someone younger than me, like Nic, with HIV/AIDS has probably bought the issue closer to me than it has ever been before in my life. It’s caused me to do a lot of thinking. HIV/AIDS has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on the LGBTIQ community. So, why have I always felt so far removed from it? Why have I not gotten more involved and tried to do something, anything about it?
I don’t have any specific answers to these questions. I’m still mulling them over in my mind. But one answer and thought has clearly emerged for me. HIV/AIDS is not just an issue ‘out there’ that affects ‘other people’. It affects all of us, no matter what our status is. Just as we need straight allies to help advance equal rights for LGBTIQ people, surely there is a place for people who don’t have HIV/AIDS to support the HIV/AIDS cause?
I don’t know what that place is, or what role (if any) I can play. But I’ve experienced a major perception shift this week. I am sure that I’m not the only one who was moved by Nic, and the entire ‘QandA’ episode this week. I have for the first time in my life, clearly seen that HIV/AIDS is ‘our’ issue and not just ‘their’ issue – and for that I am truly grateful.