WORLD AIDS DAY MY FAM­ILY, MY STA­TUS.

Gay Times Magazine - - ESSAYS - Words Florence Obadeyi

Florence Obadeyi is a bi­sex­ual African woman liv­ing with HIV. For her, re­mov­ing the stigma that still sur­rounds HIV is a key part of why mark­ing World AIDS Day is so im­por­tant. This year is the 30th ever World AIDS Day, and Florence believes it’s still as im­por­tant now as it was back in 1988.

When I was told by the doc­tors that I was a HIV pos­i­tive, all I kept think­ing was that I’m go­ing to die. Ob­vi­ously now I know bet­ter, but at the time I was clue­less about HIV.

A fam­ily mem­ber was a nurse on the ward where I had my son, so I knew that the time would come when I would have to dis­close my sta­tus to my fam­ily. Ini­tially, when I told my par­ents they were ac­cept­ing of the news, how­ever this didn’t last long. I started to no­tice that I was not get­ting in­vited to fam­ily oc­ca­sions and the spon­ta­neous vis­its to my house came to an end. It was at this point that I re­alised that my fam­ily were dis­tanc­ing them­selves from me. My son’s dad’s re­ac­tion to my sta­tus was a lot more dras­tic. He cut off all con­tact with me and my son. An ex-boyfriend also threat­ened to shoot me when I told him about my sta­tus.

Although I have been through some trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing my life, World AIDS Day gives me the op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on my jour­ney so far and ac­knowl­edge just how far I have come. Thanks to ef­fec­tive HIV treat­ment I gave birth to my son who is HIV neg­a­tive, and to­day I’m healthy, happy and mar­ried to my hus­band for over ten years.

A lot of HIV stigma is based on mis­in­for­ma­tion about HIV trans­mis­sion, which is why I think it’s im­por­tant to ed­u­cate all com­mu­ni­ties about HIV, as it’s only through ed­u­ca­tion that we can be­gin to chal­lenge that stigma. By tack­ling stigma we could un­doubt­edly im­prove the lives of all peo­ple like me liv­ing with HIV. Re­gard­less of the com­mu­nity you come from, be­ing told you’re HIV pos­i­tive can be a huge strain on your well­be­ing. This stigma can put peo­ple liv­ing with HIV at risk of be­ing threat­ened or es­tranged from their com­mu­nity. As a bi­sex­ual African woman liv­ing with HIV, I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion and also era­sure. I have a lot of dif­fer­ent parts to my iden­tity.

With it be­ing the 30t h an­niver­sary of World AIDS Day this year, I think it’s im­por­tant that we ac­knowl­edge the im­pact that stigma can have on the lives of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV. When it came to telling my son about my HIV, stigma was a big thing be­cause I didn’t want him to be dis­crim­i­nated against. I never hid my med­i­ca­tion from him. I told my son that I was liv­ing with HIV when he was five years old, and since then he has been fine with it. When he was lit­tle he used to ask, ‘What are you tak­ing?’ Be­cause he was so young and wouldn’t un­der­stand, I told him they were vi­ta­mins to keep me well.

I also think that it’s im­por­tant that we use this World AIDS Day to ed­u­cate peo­ple on HIV, as many still don’t un­der­stand that you can be HIV pos­i­tive and, be­cause of ef­fec­tive treat­ment, live a long healthy life and not pass on the virus to oth­ers.

Re­search by Terrence Hi¤ins Trust found that over half of LGBTQ peo­ple don’t be­lieve that peo­ple liv­ing with HIV on ef­fec­tive treat­ment can’t pass it on. This comes as a sur­prise to me. But the fact that this is still widely mis­un­der­stood con­firms that lack of ed­u­ca­tion about HIV is a na­tional is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed.

I wear my red rib­bon ev­ery year in hopes that I can en­cour­age more peo­ple to take some time and learn about HIV. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I have had a few peo­ple ask me what the rib­bons stands for, which gives me the op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate them on the im­por­tance of World AIDS Day. How­ever, to me 1 De­cem­ber is not only about wear­ing a red rib­bon, it’s about re­mem­ber­ing the lives lost to HIV and AIDS, and look­ing ahead to a brighter fu­ture where HIV trans­mis­sions and stigma are a thing of the past.

Terrence Hi ins Trust’s cur­rent Can’t Pass It On cam­paign is all about rais­ing aware­ness of what it means to be un­de­tectable, to erad­i­cate the stigma that sur­rounds HIV. The or­gan­i­sa­tion is also cur­rently run­ning a free HIV self-test pro­gramme, where you can or­der free HIV tests to take and re­ceive re­sults at home, via test.tht.org.uk.

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