What’s it like to tour the UK to talk about living with HIV? Jimmy Isaacs (pictured far left), 28, is doing just that, sharing his story at events up and down the country. He shares his reflections after one week on the road. Cover image credit: @theomcinnes
Manchester, 15 February
At the time of writing, I have been diagnosed with HIV for 948 days. That’s 22,762 Hours. Which is 1,364,830 Minutes. And counting.
The reality is I will likely take medication for the rest of my life.
I found talking at an event Manchester – part of the Youth Stop AIDS Speaker Tour – rewarding. The group we spoke to wasn’t just made up of students. A mother brought her children to hear our stories and to learn.
HIV is hardly talked about and touched upon in schools. I remember the only thing I learnt about HIV in school was retroviruses in A Level Biology class. Aside from that it was: “…always wear a condom to protect against STIs and HIV.”
HIV education in schools is still an uphill struggle.
Many schools don’t want to talk about it. It is often taught from a place of fear, or based on outdated opinion rather than the facts.
This is something we need to change. Change is something we’re all capable of. It takes each of us and all of us.
Another surprising talk I had was with a student called Evee. Evee is studying to be a Sex Education teacher, something that appears to be a major struggle. Evee explained that she has found it really difficult to find work in schools – most seem afraid to take on teachers with this focus.
But Evee’s story is not uncommon, and one I heard echoed by several students at the event.
I offered to help by speaking to students, something she agreed would be a powerful and useful experience for them.
Leeds, 16 February
At the time of writing, I have been diagnosed with HIV for 949 Days. That’s 22,777 Hours. Which is 1,365,730 Minutes. And counting.
Speaking at the Tour event in Leeds was an eye opener.
Our campaigning on campus during the day was a clear indication that it ain’t over. Stigma was strife.
I wandered around campus with a board saying “I’m Positive. Are You?”. The looks and avoidance I got when I tried to engage made it feel like the dark ages. One guy turned around and said “I’m positive” before realising the connotation was HIV not being upbeat, and he quickly corrected his statement while reeling away.
HIV stigma wasn’t the only issues I picked up on. A chat with Dru Lawson who was running for Education Officer at Leeds University, explained to me that racism and xenophobia is widespread. Dru wanted to make a point of being open and tolerant to different groups by running a very different campaign. He translated his manifesto into a multitude of languages, 18 in fact. He didn’t go in for cheap tricks and stunts. He believes public engagement in such campaigns is something you choose to engage with not something you’re forced to engage with.
For me, my experience in Leeds will remain a clear indication and reminder that there is a lot more work to do.
The talk itself however went really well. More than 70 people turned up and there were a lot of questions from Medical students and the public, and that did show that there is an active engagement, an active interest and an active will to make change.
What I am noticing more and more is that those who know the facts fall into three distinct groups: they are either working or studying in medicine; they are part of the LGBTQ community; or they are like me and many others they are HIV positive.
If we can’t change this, stigma will not change. It’s that simple. If we can’t change this then many more needless new cases will arise. If we can’t change this then many more will experience stigma.