As many of you who have been following my writings for some time now will know, I have frequently lambasted the UK Government, Department of Health and Health Protection Agency for failing to take any decisive action to curb the rising rate of HIV infections in the UK.
In recent years there’ve been numerous repetitive campaigns about cancer, stroke, mental health, alcohol, drugs, fruit & veg, exercise – even barbequed food, but nothing about HIV since the late 1980s. Well that changes this month.
24th April 2013 marks the launch of ‘It Starts With Me‘, a campaign created by The Terrence Higgins Trust and funded by HIV Prevention England (HPE), via the Department of Health, a campaign that will run (at least initially) for two years – until April 2015.
‘It Starts With Me’ is a campaign that will be delivered online, via the press, via posters/condom packs in venues and via local outreach teams. HPE will funding national and regional organisations to promote the campaign up and down England.
The campaign focuses on:
- Testing for HIV at least once every twelve months, and more frequently if they have taken a risk, or show symptoms of seroconversion illness.
- Taking the medication they need to stay fit and well, if they have been diagnosed with HIV.
- Protecting themselves during sex by using condoms and finding other ways to avoid risk.
- Participating in community action by finding a way to support the campaign and spread the word to their friends and contacts.
Make sure to check out www.startswithme.org.uk, the website for the campaign, and watch the short introductory video, which includes many interesting facts like 1 in 4 people in the UK with HIV don’t know that they have the virus, and that treatment is easier than ever and dramatically reduces the risk of you passing the virus onto anyone else.
It Starts With Me.
On June 16th 2013 I will be taking part in the Terrence Higgins Trust‘s ‘Walk For Life’. The aim of the walk is to raise vital funds for the HIV Hardship Fund.
Imagine for a moment that you’re HIV positive (if you’re not already), you’ve got plenty on your plate to deal with as it is right? Now imagine you can’t afford to feed yourself, your family, keep a roof over your head or afford warm clothing for the winter. Things are bad with the economy right now, most of us are feeling the pinch – but it’s those who are already in a bad situation who are hit hardest at times like these.
When I was out of work, was forced to move back home and at the same time dealing with my HIV diagnosis I felt like I had few people to turn to and even fewer options to take. The Terrence Higgins Trust gave me a helping hand with its HIV Hardship Fund and their counsellors threw me a lifeline via MyHIV.org.uk – so taking part in this event is the least I can do.
Please give what you can, every penny you donate will go to helping those living in crisis with HIV up and down the UK. There are no overheads being taken from your donations, as those are covered by the registration fees paid by walkers like myself. If you’re a UK tax-payer please remember to click the ‘GiftAid’ box too and the Terrence Higgins Trust can claim back 25p for every £1 you donate. Thank you.
You can donate by following this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ukpositivelad
Everyone who sponsors will get a shout out and a follow back on Twitter, and those who donate £50 or more will get a hand written thank you card from myself as a sign of my gratitude for doing such an amazing thing for others
All my love,
On a daily basis I get maybe thirty or forty emails from people reading this column or people visiting my website. Some are asking for support, others asking questions about HIV, a few are even hate-mail (the crazies are everywhere) – and an alarming number telling me that they’ve never had a HIV and/or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) screening.
Of course I always handle these messages sensitively. I suggest that they should go and book themselves in for a full STI screening and even provide a link to the Terrence Higgins Trust website where they can pop in their
postcode and find a clinic near them. But the whole exchange often leaves me baffled and concerned. Many of these people are in their mid-to-late twenties – how they have got this far in life (presumably having sex along the way) and never having had a check up?
Is it simply a case of sticking their heads in the sand or is there something more going on here? Having spoken to some of them in more depth there’s definitely some ostrich like behaviour for sure, for some ignorance really is bliss, if you don’t know something is wrong then you don’t need to worry about it – but for others it’s a fear of the testing process itself, and this can only be due to lack of education around the topic.
Going for a STI screening really is not that big a deal. Honestly. I went for one only the other month (I go every six months – and so should you if you’re sexually active). Here’s what happened:
I arrived at the clinic at about 10am. I sat around watching Jeremy Kyle in the waiting room until I was called through by a doctor. They ask you a few simple questions:
Why’ve you come in today? “routine testing”,
Do you have any symptoms? “none”,
Any pre-existing conditions? “HIV-positive”.
After that I head back to the waiting room for a couple of minutes for a spot more Jezza (turns out he wasn’t the father). Then a nurse calls me through to one of the other rooms. She takes a couple of throat swabs (say “ahhhh”), a tiny swab from the end of my penis (it does pinch a little, but it doesn’t hurt), and a swab from my ass. Another nurse comes into to take a couple of vials of blood and then I’m given a little bottle to go put a urine sample in. I’m good to go. That’s it! takes about 45 minutes, one hour tops. They’ll text me any results in two weeks time.
(If I didn’t already know that I was HIV-Positive they would have also offered a HIV Rapid Test, which gives you a result in 15 minutes)
It’s incredibly important that each of us get regular STI screenings. Most sexual health charities recommend twice a year or more frequent if you’re more sexually active. Whilst you may not have any symptoms you may still carry any number of infections without even knowing it. I myself had absolutely none of the ‘flu-like’ symptoms often associated with HIV and only found out at one of my regular screenings.
Getting checked out doesn’t just mean that you’re looking after yourself, it means you’re showing respect and looking out for those who you sleep with – after all you’d hope anyone you slept with to have been checked recently, wouldn’t you?
So if you’ve never been checked out, or maybe it’s been far too long since your last test perhaps today’s good deed could be calling up your clinic and booking yourself in for a little MOT. Don’t know where your nearest one is – sorry, that’s no excuse. Head over to THT.org.uk and click ‘Sexual health’ to use their ‘Service Finder’ tool.
A quick event update for you all:
Positive East and the London Gay Men’s Chorus ensemble announced that they will be putting on
another show together to raise funds for the charity’s HIV support services for gay men in London.
The show is called Good Vibrations, and takes place in St Pancras Church on Saturday 13th April.
Following on from last year’s spectacular show the Chorus will put on another night of show
The event will raise funds specifically in support of Positive East’s services for gay men in London.
It’s estimated that 1 in 12 men in London gay are HIV positive. There are more gay and bisexual men
living with HIV in London than ever before. This makes the work of Positive East, and their network
of one-to-one and group support sessions, more important than ever before.
It’s vital that people don’t become isolated from their communities as a result of their HIV status,
and supporting this event will help make sure that doesn’t happen.Tickets for this one-off show are available online, at www.ticketsource.co.uk/positiveeast.
For further information you can call the box office on 020 7791 9353.
All the best,
How’re we all doing? What’s that? Speak up I can’t hear you!
Just a little blog post to let you know that the April 2013 issue of ATTITUDE Magazine is out now in digital format, available on iPad, iPhone, Android and pretty much any other device going – you can get your copy here. For those of you who like something to hold in your hand it’ll be on new-stands from this Wednesday 6th March.
This issue our cover star is the stunning James Franco talking about cruising bars, leather and the Wizard of Oz. Zac Efron’s new film ‘The Paperboy’, lots of men in swimwear and my coming out piece. Yes that’s right – this month is the first month you’ll see my face in ATTITUDE Magazine, well all of it anyway. I talk about my journey so far, the support I’ve received and the highs and lows of my short time so far living with HIV.
Check it out!
Good afternoon boys and girls,
In 31 days time I’ll be taking on the THT Walk for Life 2012. A 10km trek around London to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is an amazing charity that provides support and information to those living with HIV in the UK, as well as their prevention and awareness work. They’ve helped me out in some of my darkest hours with their online and telephone counselling – I really don’t know where I’d be today without them.
They also run the ground-breaking site MyHIV.org.uk which provides both advice and a meeting place for those living with HIV in the UK. Already there are over a thousand people on the forums, and regular coffee afternoons spawning all over the country. It’s almost impossible to write down everything they do here, but needless to say they do a lot – and THEY NEED YOUR SUPPORT.
Please sponsor me for the THT 10k Walk for Life, every pound will help someone in some way. Be it their hardship fund providing assistance to those living in poverty with HIV or hiring more counsellors to talk to those desperately in need.
You can find my sponsorship page here: http://fundraising.tht.org.uk/UKPositiveLad
Please give generously, please give what you can.
All my love and gratitude,
I hope you’re all enjoying this sunny Friday afternoon, I know I am. Sat out in the park with my iPad writing this blog post.
But then that’s not the only thing I’m writing at the moment, oh no. For my regular readers and those who follow me on Twitter you’ve probably seen me hinting (rather unsubtly) at some upcoming magazine work. Well yesterday afternoon I finally nailed down the particulars and I’m happy to announce that you can now to keep up with me on twitter, on my blog and from the end of May… at Attitude Magazine.
That’s right boys and girls. I’m going to have a monthly column in Britain’s biggest selling gay magazine, starting in their famous and incredibly hot ‘Naked Issue’ – out at the end of May (pictured is last year’s Naked Issue).
I’ve been in talks with the Editor Matthew Todd (Stonewall journalist of the year, British Society of Magazine Editors’ Men’s Magazine Editor of the year) for the past couple of months, and I’m going to be using my column to show the gay men of Britain what life is really like with HIV.
Much like this blog I’ll be writing about the ups, downs, how people have made me feel, how I’m feeling in myself, how my treatment is going – and there’ll even be the odd interview thrown in here and there!
It’s not quite possible to put into words how overwhelmed and excited I am about this new project, but I promise to do you all proud – and make sure you all buy a copy of my first (double length) column, where I’ll be talking about my life with HIV to date. And for you tech-aficionados out there you can now get Attitude Magazine direct to your iPad with videos and everything!
There are a few things in this world that seem to infinite, space, time, Cher’s fair-well tours, and gay men’s capacity for gossip.
I don’t know what it is about gay men but we just love a bit of gossip. I myself am not immune to this phenomenon, I’ll put my hands up now. But there are some things that you just don’t gossip about and a person’s HIV status is one of those.
Imagine my surprise the other night when I get a IM from someone I barely know saying “Are you HIV positive?”. I didn’t answer straight away but instead inquired as to why he was asking. Apparently a joint “friend” had seen us chatting online and thought that he should tell him for his own protection. Because, you know, you can get HIV over instant messaging these days.
Furthermore it’s apparently a “Well known fact” that I’m HIV positive and that I “go around barebacking people without telling them”. Ah that old rumour again eh? Never gets old that one. This is the darker side of the gay grapevine. Without me even having confirmed my HIV status I was then told how what I was doing was “reckless” and “criminal”. I tried to point out that the spreading of such unfounded rumours was, in fact, libel – a criminal offence. He didn’t take this well.
The whole exchange left me feeling angry and violated. Angry because it’s no-one’s business what my HIV status is, and it’s certainly not their place to be going around telling people. Violated because my name is being dragged through the mud by “friends” unknown – who actually think I’m going around infecting people with HIV. The very thought left me feeling physically sick, I wouldn’t wish this virus on my worst enemy.
The stigma surrounding HIV is never going to go away if people trade other people’s HIV statuses like dirty little secrets, something to be ashamed of. But nor should we feel we have to announce it to the world and his dog to pre-empt the rumour mill. How about we allow HIV positive people some respect and privacy and let them tell only who they want, and when they want – and not out them like some sort of sideshow attraction?
So before you pass on that juicy bit of gossip you just heard, take a moment to think: How is this going to effect the person? Do I have any right to tell people this? How would I like it if people said this about me? Maybe the rumour could stop with you?
From my hidey cave,