WORLD AIDS DAY MY FAMILY, MY STATUS.
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.