The Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist on break­ing down the walls of stigma faced by those with HIV/AIDS, and how his life has changed since com­ing for­ward with his sta­tus.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS: -

After mak­ing in­ter­na­tional head­lines speak­ing out about his HIV sta­tus, ABC news an­chor Karl Sch­mid is far from hid­ing. Proud to cham­pion a cause close to his heart, he tells us how his life has changed since re­veal­ing his sta­tus, and ex­plains how we can break down the walls of stigma.

ABC re­porter Karl Sch­mid made in­ter­na­tional head­lines ear­lier this year when he came out as HIV pos­i­tive on so­cial me­dia. The Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist re­ceived uni­ver­sal praise for open­ing up about his sta­tus - which he did on a whim - and has since gar­nered “mes­sage after mes­sage” from LGBTQ youth seek­ing ad­vice.

“We have to ed­u­cate peo­ple, we need to have this new con­ver­sa­tion, and we re­ally need to show what HIV pos­i­tive looks like in 2018,” Karl tells us. “I will stand as one of these peo­ple and say, ‘Take a look at me. Take a look at this. This is HIV pos­i­tive.’”

We spoke to Karl about how his life has sky­rock­eted in the past few months, dis­crim­i­na­tion he’s faced from within the gay com­mu­nity, and how we can com­bat the stigma sur­round­ing HIV and AIDS.

Your life has kind of blown up since com­ing out as HIV pos­i­tive, hasn’t it?

I didn’t think, be­yond the few peo­ple who fol­lowed me and my cir­cle of friends, that any­one would no­tice it, but within 24 hours it kind of went a bit crazy. It snow­balled. I cer­tainly didn’t en­vi­sion my­self at the World AIDS Con­fer­ence in Am­s­ter­dam, or even talk­ing to you all these months later, and get­ting mes­sage after mes­sage ask­ing for ad­vice on a daily ba­sis. It’s taken me by sur­prise, but I’ve kind of em­braced it. As long as the spot­light is shin­ing, I’ll make as much noise as I can about break­ing down the walls of stigma sur­round­ing HIV and AIDS.

Why do you think peo­ple con­nected so well with your story?

My boss at ABC said, ‘We sup­port and love you so it doesn’t mat­ter, but I don’t see how this is a news story’. I some­what agree with her, but hav­ing left the World AIDS Con­fer­ence, I think ac­tu­ally now more than ever, it needs to be a news story, and it needs to be a con­ver­sa­tion. The ma­jor­ity of the world, with the ex­cep­tion of mil­len­ni­als who seem to get it in more ways than one, still have this idea that to be HIV pos­i­tive means death and car­ries sin­ful ac­tiv­ity. The stigma is hor­rific, but even more dan­ger­ous is the in­ter­nalised stigma by those liv­ing with HIV. I don’t think I fully ac­knowl­edged the deep in­ter­nalised stigma I had against my­self un­til I came out about this a cou­ple months ago. It re­ally has changed my mind­set, my per­son­al­ity, and the way I look at my­self. I was never gonna let HIV pull me down, so I thought. At the same time, I also had so many neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences in my per­sonal life while try­ing to date that I sort of be­came flip­pant and blasé, and would say things like, ‘Oh well, I’m dam­aged goods, so let’s be real – who’s gonna date me?’ I didn’t think that that was dam­ag­ing me quite as much as I now come to re­alise. So it has changed my life, but there’s so much hope that things are gonna get bet­ter.

What kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion have you faced when try­ing to date?

At some point in the dat­ing process, you have to say, ‘There’s some­thing I have to tell you’. More of­ten than not, in my case any­way, peo­ple were fu­ri­ous with me, and they were like, ‘How dare you? Why the fuck wouldn’t you tell me this at the be­gin­ning?’ It’s like, ‘First of all, I’ve not put you in a po­si­tion of any dan­ger or risk’. The big news that came out of the con­fer­ence – which has been news for a long time but a lot of peo­ple still don’t know – is that un­de­tectable truly equals un­trans­mit­table. It is now sci­en­tif­i­cally and med­i­cally proven by the top sci­en­tists that cat­e­gor­i­cally, there is no way that you can trans­mit HIV if you’re healthy and un­de­tectable. I was healthy and un­de­tectable, but I still had drinks thrown in my face, I was called ev­ery name un­der the sun, I had peo­ple stop talk­ing to me, I lit­er­ally had peo­ple shut me out of their lives. So you try an­other ap­proach. You go on a first date, sit down and you go, ‘Just be­fore we get started, I just wanna let you know that I’m HIV pos­i­tive’, and peo­ple would look at me like I was an id­iot. It’s ei­ther, ‘What, you think we’re gonna have sex?’ or ‘Why are you telling me?’ I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. I just kind of stopped dat­ing and thus, the in­ter­nalised stigma of my­self be­gan and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just be sin­gle’.

How do you think we can com­bat the stigma sur­round­ing HIV and AIDS?

We have to ed­u­cate peo­ple, we need to have this new con­ver­sa­tion, and we re­ally need to show what be­ing HIV pos­i­tive looks like in 2018. I will stand as one of those peo­ple and say, ‘Take a look at me. Take a look at this. This is HIV pos­i­tive, and I’m not about to waste away in a hos­pi­tal bed and shit my­self and die’. And one of the eas­i­est things we can do as gay men to change, when we’re on Grindr or Scruff or what­ever app you choose to use, ask­ing some­one if they’re clean... Peo­ple don’t re­alise how deep that can cut some­body. It im­plies that I’m not clean. Peo­ple ask me and I say, ‘Yes, squeaky, I shower twice a day’. That’s my re­sponse. They don’t even think about it, and they don’t re­alise that ask­ing some­one if they’re clean im­plies that if you’re HIV pos­i­tive, you’re dirty. There’s al­ways gonna be peo­ple who hate us, and don’t like us, but my ar­gu­ment with that is: If you don’t like gay peo­ple or HIV pos­i­tive peo­ple, chances are, you don’t re­ally know any. You don’t so­cialise with them, so why do you care? I could un­der­stand if me be­ing HIV pos­i­tive and gay meant that Frank Smith liv­ing down the street was gonna earn $10 less a month. If that meant that he was gonna lose that money out of his pay cheque, I would un­der­stand why he would wanna fight me. Chances are, Frank Smith doesn’t know me, doesn’t have any friends like me, and my life has zero im­pact on his life, so why the fuck do you care mate?

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