So after days of speculation Prince Harry has announced his 'big secret'... he sometimes gets stage fright. There are secrets and there are secrets. Some are embarrassing, some cringe-worthy, some scandalous. However none of the secrets spilled out by Prince Harry or his celebrity friends will result in them being verbally abused, discriminated against, rejected or physically abused.
There are power dynamics involved in defining how big a deal a secret is and power in knowing someone's secret but the campaign skirts over these issues.
When undertaking HIV awareness training I do a simple exercise. I ask the group to write down a secret about themselves that they don't want anyone to know. I then ask them to fold that piece of paper up and pass it to the person next to them. The exercise illustrates what it's like when someone has information about you that they will use to judge you and may use against you. We never reveal the secrets and destroy the pieces of paper afterwards. However people are always wary, in fact in some groups, people refuse to write anything down, so scared are they that others will have some power over them. The problem with the #FeelNoShame campaign it fails to acknowledge that.
None of these secrets shared in Prince Harry's campaign are shameful and nor is having an HIV diagnosis. However the difference is that too many in society treat the former as playfully embarrassing but deem the latter as something to be ashamed of. And herein lays the problem with #FeelNoShame. It's playing a game and a game that doesn't reflect the reality of the situation. As a campaign it deals with what's on the surface but fails to address our preconceptions, our biases and our structural problems that discriminate against people living with HIV.
If we want to challenge HIV stigma we need to tackle the roots of the problem. We need to press for LGBT rights in countries who have introduced discriminatory legislation and in those such as Uganda and Zimbabwe where homosexuality is illegal. We need to champion the rights of women in countries such as India where the legal system gives limited autonomy. We need to seek harm reduction in countries as Russia that criminalises drug users. However let's not look too far from home where in the UK political parties such as UKIP, take an easy target of migrants and HIV and single this group out for affected for special treatment. HIV stigma is endemic in UK society and we see this at Positively UK where I work: the grandmother, living with her son and his family, who was confined to her room, given separate crockery and cutlery and barred from even touching her grandchildren; the gay man rejected by his family because they could just about cope with his sexuality, but whose HIV diagnosis was too much to accept; the teenagers whose first sexual encounters are filled with lies and fears because they fear being rejected and publicly named for being HIV positive. Those are examples of the people who seek support and who live with the fear of others finding out about HIV.
I do understand what Harry is trying to do, and believe he has the best interests of people living with HIV at heart and so am way about being seen to simply dismiss his campaign. At least he's raising the issue and getting people to address it. I just feel the campaign somewhat misses the point.