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PrEP: The Right Thing To Do And A Reminder Of Just How Wrong We Were

11/04/2017 11:35
MarcBruxelle via Getty Images

San Francisco's Castro - our gay Shangri-La. It's hard not to fall for its easy going ways and visitor friendly charms.

Liberal values ooze from the picture perfect bricks and mortar.

Harvey Milk walked through and fought for these streets. But while he's both famous and feted he didn't struggle alone.

There were many less well known grafters who fought alongside him. The Castro's GLBT Museum charts their history. They struggled for political equality, decent housing and healthcare.

One exhibition moved me to tears. 'Dancers We Lost' catalogues the faces and lives of young men from the world of ballet, Broadway, the club scene and on screen who died in their prime. Few lived beyond fifty. They were friends and lovers, sons and brothers all cut down by AIDS. They left the artistic scene a poorer place and they left many survivors bereft. But theirs was an extraordinary legacy, posthumous victors on this small battlefield in the fight for progress.

Late that night, after sampling what the Castro nightlife had to offer (another article perhaps), I got back to my hotel and fired up Twitter. There it was. Screeching at me from all those miles away: 'What A Skewed Sense Of Values.'

This was the front page of the Daily Mail after a High Court in England had ruled that NHS England must provide the anti-HIV drug PrEP. I won't give my own analysis of the low-life reactionary headline, but it was dangerous, divisive and driven by pure ignorance.

Can you imagine what those we have lost would have made of this? Those who just wanted to live and share their talents with the world, but were let down by ignorant policy making and a public discourse so vicious that it cost countless lives. Now they are remembered on a solitary wall in San Francisco and in memorials around the world.

I am incredibly pleased that, in Scotland, we are the first part of the UK to provide PrEP on our National Health Service. This game changing drug is a vital way of equipping ourselves if we are to combat seriously the spread of HIV.

However, it is not job done.

Though a Scottish MP, I know from campaigners in England the sense of frustration with the UK Government that they insist on putting more hurdles in the way of the rollout of PrEP. I, and many other MPs hear you and we will continue to be on your side.

After all, this is a government that moved legislation to outlaw poppers whilst at the same time denying PrEP. Apparently that 30 second head rush was a bigger public health priority.

So whilst we in Scotland will celebrate our success and progress, know that we stand with our neighbours in England and will offer our full support until we get the result that is so badly needed. And when we succeed - and we will succeed - we must continue our fight right around the world.

I think of that display in the Castro a lot. The faces of those lost. The weight of the world on their shoulders but a simple ambition to be free to live, love and perform.

Deeply moving. Absolutely tragic. But above all, a reminder that it ain't over.

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