I was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 18, I remember it like it was yesterday. Being called forward by the doctor, being sat down (already trembling) and then hit with the news. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I knew very little about HIV at that age. I loosely remember the Mark Fowler storyline on EastEnders and all I could think of was that my life was over. I'm not alone in this lack knowledge, The National Aids Trust's research found over a quarter of survey respondents did not know or were not sure HIV is passed on.
I first remember being attracted to guys when I was around 13. I wasn't quite sure what I felt or what it meant. I remember very clearly some awful sex ed lessons at school. I was shown a video of a typical family, where the whole family paraded around house naked and taught that sex is for a man and women for pleasure and have babies. I was never taught of the love between two men or two women.
I was having feelings I didn't know what to do with and I felt so isolated because it was never spoken about. Looking back now I feel let down. I strongly believe that if the teachers had the right knowledge and support then they would have been much better equipped to help me and others too.
The Boys Who Like Boys survey results echo this, with over two thirds of respondents saying they would value more information about sex that is safe and they enjoy. It's important SRE is not just about sexual health information to prevent disease, but about giving balanced information which supports young MSM to have sex that is safe and enjoyable. The survey also revealed that over half of respondents had been bullied or discriminated against because of their sexuality. This may be shocking to some, but not to me. I feel the finding of this report will open people's eyes to the importance of inclusive SRE in schools.
It took me a long time to come to terms with being HIV+, but now, almost seven years later, I am now making it my mission to change people's misconceptions and change the education system. I strongly believe the education system fails young LGBTI+ people every day. We have won the battle of equal age of consent and equal marriage in the UK, the next fight is to make inclusive SRE compulsory in all schools.
The education system has one of the biggest influences on young people's lives, therefore they have a real key responsibility to make sure young LGBT+ people are leaving school with the told they need for life. The government need a key strategy to help these young people. They need to realise the reality of their failings and make changes to make sure that they are better informed to make life decisions and know how to live as healthy LGBT+ people.
Today I received an email from a teacher from my school who apologised for her, and the school, failing me. Personally I don't feel she failed me, as she supported me with a lot of other issues, but how many people need to through this before changes are made. The Boys Who Like Boys report highlights key failure that the government need to address, we need to make this change happen to ensure a brighter future for young LGBT+ people.
I hope that the report from NAT will wake the government up and that they will realise how serious a problem this has become.