Yesterday was World AIDS Day and while we’ve made some amazing progress, we still have a long way to go. Treatments mean that people with HIV are living perfectly healthy long lives and PrEP along with educated safe sex means that we have the opportunity to almost eradicate transmissions. Sadly there is a long way to go with stigma still meaning that there are lots of stories of rejection and discrimination to be told.
A guy that I know has become a dedicated HIV education campaigner. Yesterday he was in Northern Queensland and gave an emotional speech telling his story. Theo is a former meth addict and survivor of child abuse. He’s been living with HIV for four years after a sex partner lied about his status. When Theo confronted him and told him of his diagnosis the guy didn’t want to hear it, didn’t get tested and kept telling partners he was negative. It’s a terrible story that is sadly too common.
Yesterday it was announced that Australia’s PrEP trials are going to be expanded by thousands to encompass a much larger number of more gay men. I’m not sure I’m in the risk category that would need to be put on PrEP but I have certainly considered it if and when it becomes more readily available in Australia. Combining PrEP with condom use means you can sleep much more soundly at night. We have to give thanks to people like Theo who are working so hard to educate people and fighting for better treatment both medically and from society.
A colleague of mine who is too young to have seen any of the initial AIDS epidemic or see anything other than people living with HIV happy and healthy, didn’t even realise that HIV and AIDS weren’t the same thing. It proves just how far we have to go. Below is Theo’s speech.
<VIDEO BELOW>My World AIDS Day speech. "Hello, my name is Theodore Timothy Tsipiras. I am 25 years old. I am survivor of child abuse, a recovering crystal methamphetamine addict and have been living with HIV for 4 years. I was in a serodiscordant relationship back when I contracted HIVI contracted HIV not from my partner of 3 years at the time but through unprotected sex with an individual in our open relationship that disclosed himself as negative. When I had made contact to notify the man that he gave me HIV, he stopped me, as he would rather not know and continue to disclose to others as "negative". It was then I realised that there is surely something I could do to stop this from happening again to someone else, and while I could not warn future sexual partners of this man, there was something I could do for my community. Which brings me here today.I am PROUD and HONOURED that men and women before me fought for the medication I take daily and the support I receive. You went through the trauma of losing loved ones. You had no idea what was going on around you, living in fear yet staying resilient. It would be rude of me to forget to mention how lucky I am to not have gone through that what seemed like a WAR. You also had to deal with governments and media that did not do enough. Through that inaction you stood up united to a cause to pave the way for activists to come and I thank you for it, so much.I have to keep reminding myself that I am surrounded by those whom I love and continue to support me but there is no other way that I know to express my feelings about what I will be talking about as I am desperate, and I apologise.I stand before you ANGRY. I am angry that while antiretroviral therapies are becoming more widespread and accessible in places like here, the UK and America, our brothers and sisters living with HIV in the Third World not only have to struggle for food but DO NOT have easily accessible medication, information or support.Almost 37 million people live with HIV around the world. 26 million of those are in sub-saharan Africa. I am angry that while I can stand here comfortable about disclosing my status, my sisters in Australia still have trouble telling their friends they are living with HIV and are healthy but would love to be treated equally and respectably within their community and most importantly, their group of close friends and family. Women in Australia make up for 10% of the total people living with HIV and while they are a minority they are equally as important and deserve representation.I am the angry that STIGMA still hits so close to home for all of us, some comments just as brutal as back in the 80's . Even popular media gets it wrong. When someone has HIV, they DO NOT have AIDS, yes, theres a difference.I was outed on social media that I was HIV+, I still don't know who it was but it doesn't matter, the damage is done, it resulted in my family finding out about my status. Prior to that, I was with a date one night and from another room I had someone scream in a busy establishment "He's poz you know". Thankfully, my date already knew about my status but I still didn't know what to do with the situation. Feeling publicly shamed, I left. This actually occurred while I was working in Melbourne at the AIDS conference last year.One in five people believe HIV can be transmitted through saliva. One in ten believe they can catch HIV from a toilet seat. I am not a victim of HIV. I do not wish it upon anyone, but I have a mission. I stand before you DETERMINED I am determined to stand on the shoulders of those who have fallen or been disadvantaged from HIV/AIDS to help talk about HIV in those times where it needs to be brought up to educate and reduce stigma. I am determined to continue to do my best to talk openly about my status and my past, even in those situations where it may be uncomfortable because I will not allow someone else to take disclosing away from me again. I am determined to stay hopeful that I can change the world, one person at a time whether it be face to face, on social media or on location-based dating apps by refusing to let stigma take control of a conversation. I am not here to tell you what to think. I am here to let you think on what to do. Stand with me here today to not only remember, but to stand in unity again to make a difference, as I believe we have a bright future ahead of us. But we must fight for it, rekindle that flame to burn brighter.We live in a world that doesn't follow the rules of moral fibre. Rather than submit to hating it for what it is, celebrate that you can do everything to change it. One struggle, one fight."
Posted by Theodore Timothy Tsipiras on Tuesday, December 1, 2015