A show aimed at smashing the stigma of HIV will be staged on the 1st December to mark Worlds Aids Day. The play will be performed for one night only at the Tom Thumb Theatre in Cliftonville.
Smash the Stigma, written by Margate resident Julian Durlacher, will include acts Charity Kase, from RuPaul’s Drag Show, Thanet’s Andrew Gibson and choreographer and performing artist Ash Mukherjee.
Julian said: “Aids may be seen as a thing of the past, treatable and therefore forgettable. Not so for those living with it – every pill taken is a reminder that we carry within us a disease still talked about in hushed tones. HIV may be treatable but the shame is not.
“Smash the Stigma will confront the shame many are made to feel and consign it to history, along with sexism, homophobia and Ricketts.”
Drag performer Charity Kase , real name – Harry Whitfield, was just 18 when he was diagnosed with HIV.
Harry recalls, “Beforehand, all I’d seen through the media was that it was ‘disgusting’, ‘dirty’ and ‘easily avoidable’.”
Looking for support, he spoke to a family member about it. Instead, the family member said: “Oh, I told you to be careful.”
Although Harry started treatment and now lives a healthy life because of it, it was the stigma associated with HIV that had the biggest impact on his life, forcing him to retreat from the world.
Harry continued: “I took the news very very badly, I was so upset, that’s the reason why it’s a problem. That trauma I experienced being diagnosed is thanks to the stigma, I had only seen and heard that gay people get aids and it’s gross, and that’s why I hated myself when I was told I had HIV.”
“I felt disgusting, ashamed and embarrassed. I went and laid in bed for a month and didn’t see anyone, I didn’t think anyone would want me now because I was damaged, and that’s how it felt – that’s not just me and my mind, that’s how society taught me to feel.”
“I know, and knew as a young child, that I had to be careful because I could catch AIDS because it was scary – I was fearful to have sex. That’s very commonplace in the gay world, to be afraid to have sex, because of the AIDS crisis.”
“The reality is it’s much safer for people to have sex with me because I live with the virus, because of the medication I have, than to have sex with a stranger on the street.”
Harry said that he takes one tablet every day and it suppresses the amount of the virus in his body to the level where it is intransmissible – and he suffers no ill health as a result.
He added: “I’m still here, I’m happy, I’m living my life – nothing has changed except that I take a tablet every day. I’m more at risk of long-term health complications of course because my immune system is not as strong – but it’s the same level as someone living with diabetes. I feel like I live a completely normal life and that it doesn’t affect me in any way, except having to take one tablet each night which is not a big deal at all.”
“There are so many other illnesses and chronic diseases that affect people on a much higher level that are not viewed in a judgemental or bigoted way. The medication that I take supresses the level of the virus found in my blood and body so it cannot be passed on to somebody, because it’s kept at such a low level – that’s called being undetectable.”
“There’s a lot of fear and stigma around HIV and around people living with it, but the reality is such a minimal thing – we even call it an HIV scare but that phrase in itself is really damaging because that implies it is something to be afraid of. It’s a hard thing to experience because of what we’re taught and what it’s correlated to for such a long time.”
Harry said that the perception of HIV has to change for the stigma to end, and the first step towards that is improving sex education in schools.
He added: “Education is very important, I don’t remember learning a thing about gay sex or the HIV crisis in schools at all – I think it should be taught.
“Just as you have sex education for heterosexual people in school, it should be the same for gay people, it’s unreasonable to expect gay people to go through life living in a straight world where they may be in a place where no one is like them, they need help learning about all this as well. Our country, our youth, needs to be educated on HIV and learn to not only protect themselves but handle the possibility of being diagnosed one day. It’s not a red flag to be wary of at all costs.”
World Aids Day, designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the Aids pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.
It is some 41 years since the first HIV/Aids was recorded in the UK.
A year later in 1982 the Terrence Higgins Trust was set up in memory of 37-year-old Terry Higgins, another victim of the virus.
Since those first diagnoses treatment for HIV has progressed enormously. Some 92% of people living with HIV have been diagnosed, 98% of those are on treatment, and 97% of those are ‘undetectable’ – which means they can’t pass on HIV.
A spokesperson from the Trust said: “Thanks to incredible medical advancements in the fight against HIV, people living with the virus can live long and fulfilling lives. People living with HIV who are on effective treatment can’t pass on the virus and can expect to live just as long as anyone else. Condoms, access to reliable testing and HIV prevention pill PrEP have revolutionised HIV prevention.”
“While we have seen monumental progress, the fight against HIV isn’t over. Today, the charity are working towards the goal of zero new HIV cases in the UK by 2030.
To book tickets to see Smash The Stigma click here.