On 4 November the gorgeous and glamorous will gather for the Terrence Higgins Trust's annual Supper Club. Hosts will hold dinners, with an after party at the fashionable Drury Club. I will be giving the following speech at my dinner:
"It was my twenty-seventh birthday. It had just turned 2 am and I lay on the sofa in my apartment. The cool leather pressed against my skin. I cradled my head in my arms, my elbows pressing against my stomach. My knees were drawn up to my waist. I had taken my shoes off and my bare feet were entwined, pushing against the soft surface. I reached for a cushion and pulled it into my torso. I held it tightly, resting my chin against its compressed mass. I savoured the controlled solidity. I looked across the room. The shadows crept in a flickering dance. The shapes they made bore the vaguest resemblance to the furniture caught in the gloom. A chessboard of limestone was dotted with anonymous shapes, the familiar becoming strange and eerie. The silent darkness echoed my melancholy. The silence pierced to the depths of my body. I wanted to talk about my HIV. I felt as if I was being suffocated. My silent screams reverberated, cascading and collecting, forming a solid mass at the back of my throat. The ormolu mounts of a late nineteenth-century table reflected the darkness, sparkling black. The organic forms in mahogany, distorting mirrors and chrome melted into a co-ordinated dissonance. I started to cry. The tears came slowly and silently. The shadows seemed to delight in my misery, shady pools of hopelessness turning into rivulets of agony. The pain of my HIV flooded the room. I was saturated.
I'm excited to welcome you here tonight to this Supper Club in aid of the Terrence Higgins Trust. The THT do an incredible amount of work in support of those of us living with HIV. I'm proud to be associated with them. They have helped to banish the shadows, the light shines once more, showing me where my life should be going. I've incorporated my HIV into my identity, emerging as a healthy and happy young man and an HIV awareness and gay rights activist.
The descriptive passage above captures the pain of the first years following my diagnosis in January 2010. Uncertainty, stigma and fear fractured my life. My goal is that fewer people should face the turmoil of HIV and that those of us living with HIV know that they need not live a life in the shadows.
I want to outline some of the core areas of HIV activism for you tonight, so that you know more about what I'm fighting for and can help in the battle to facilitate change.
We need better HIV testing. Of the 108,000 people who are HIV positive in the UK, 25 % are unaware that they are HIV positive. We need to ensure that there are fewer late HIV diagnoses. We need to change attitudes towards testing and we need more funding for testing.
We need to see Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) made available. PrEP is a regime of HIV medication which can be taken before sex to prevent the transmission of HIV. NHS England is currently engaged in an evaluation process. The sooner PrEP is made available the better.
We need more peer support and community forums for people living with HIV, where they can provide feedback and voice their concerns in a safe and confidential space. Peer support from other people living with HIV allows patients to have the appropriate advice and guidance so that they can make the correct choices about their health. Peer support should be accessible and available wherever it is needed.
66 % of people living with HIV have been impacted by changes to the benefits system. There need to be fairer benefits assessments, so that those in need receive the appropriate payments. Assessments need to be tailored to reflect the complex and fluctuating nature of HIV. Those involved in the assessment process should receive training in the nature of long term conditions, such as HIV.
Sex and Relationships Education needs to be made compulsory in schools. Earlier this year a cross-party Education Select Committee recommended that this should be a requirement for all schools. It is important that our young people learn about sex and sexually transmitted infections.
Most importantly, more must be done to tackle stigma. The stigma of HIV impacted me, creating a wall of repression. I was unhappy and struggled to gain acceptance around my HIV for several years. It was a while before I had the confidence to disclose my HIV status in the workplace. HIV positive people should be more visible in our society. We need to challenge the misconceptions which remain surrounding HIV.
I ask all of you to reflect on what you can do to fight for those of us living with HIV. Thank you for being here tonight, for supporting the THT and the work they do. Thank you for helping to bring light back to the room darkened with fear. Thank you for confronting HIV with me. I have been victorious in my struggle against my HIV. Thank you for ending the darkness of silent suffering with the brightness of your hope. Thank you for being there for those of us living with HIV. Let's fight to vanquish the pain of HIV for everyone."
For more information on the THT and how to donate, please visit www.tht.org.uk