A British member of parliament has given a deeply personal and arresting speech, disclosing his HIV positive status and calling on more funding for HIV prevention medication.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, shared that he had been HIV positive for almost 10 years, and talked about the moment he was diagnosed, and his journey since that moment.
“Mr Deputy Speaker, next year I will be marking an anniversary of my own: 10 years since I became HIV positive,” Russell-Moyle said in the House of Commons on Thursday.
“It has been a long journey from the fear of acceptance and today hopefully advocacy, knowing that my treatment keeps me healthy and protects any partner that I may have.”
“When you are first diagnosed, you get that call from the clinic, and they just say: ‘you need to come in.’ They don’t tell you the details, and you know immediately something is going to be wrong,” Russell-Moyle said. “All the different worst-case scenarios flash through your mind, and of course being someone who was a sexually active young man, HIV is one of those things that flashes through there.”
“They tell you. And it hits you like a wall.”
“And then in that NHS room with those cream carpets and the plastic seating that we all know, they tell you. And it hits you like a wall. And though you’ve prepared yourself for it in your mind, nothing quite prepares you for when they say those words,” he continued.
Russell-Moyle recalled looking up at the ceiling and hoping that he would wake up and it would all be a dream. “But of course the reality is, Mr Deputy Speaker, that is not what happens,” he said. “You walk out feeling totally numb.”
He shared that he’s now “HIV positive undetectable”. This means he’s been taking antiretroviral treatment, to reduce the amount of the virus in his body to a level that’s undetectable. According to HIV organisation Terrence Higgins Trust, “this means the levels of HIV are so low that the virus cannot be passed on.”
“I’m a HIV positive man but because I’ve been taking the right medication for several years I am what the NHS calls ‘HIV positive undetectable,'” said Russell-Moyle. “That means not only can you not detect HIV in my system so I don’t get sick, it means that I can’t transmit HIV to someone else. So as the virus lays undetectable and dormant in my body, my medication ensures that the virus doesn’t reactivate, doesn’t progress, and can’t be passed on.”
He talked about the impact of the stigma surrounding HIV and how that stigma affects people in the LGBTQ community.
“That’s why, Mr Deputy Speaker, the NHS says undetectable equals un-transmittable, which is still sadly framed in those scare campaigns of the tombs of the 1980s,” he said. “Yet so much of LGBT culture also marked by this spectre of HIV, something that has led to an incredible sense of fear about the disease. And in that hospital room and in the days and weeks that followed, I had to come to terms with that fear myself.”
“Understanding that I was unable to transmit HIV sexually has been life-changing.”
Russell-Moyle talked about how becoming undetectable has changed his life, his relationships, and the way he came to terms with being HIV positive. “Understanding that I was unable to transmit HIV sexually has been life-changing too,” he said. “I went from thinking I would never have a HIV negative partner — or that if I had sex with someone I could pass it on — to the knowledge that any partner I have is totally protected.
“I can’t transmit HIV to my sexual partner, I have a perfectly healthy life, so my announcement here today should go totally unnoticed,” he said.
“I have not only survived, I’ve prospered, and any partner I have is safe and protected.”
“It is better to live in knowledge than to die in fear,” he continued.
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