TV Show 'First Dates' Tried to Make Me Reveal My HIV+ Status. Now I Work to Fight Stigma.
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The phone rang. As the person on the other end of the line talked, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was in shock and began shaking. I felt angry and upset.
No, this isn’t the moment I was diagnosed with HIV. This was over a year later when the producers of Channel 4’s First Dates show insisted I disclose my status to my date — preferably on TV.
I’d been on a long journey since my diagnosis. I knew that taking anti-retroviral medication meant that the virus had become "undetectable", so even if I did have unprotected sex with my date (a presumption in itself!) it would have been impossible for me to pass the virus on. This moment took me all the way back to the start.
Back to all the negative thoughts that went through my mind in the first days of my diagnosis. The self-blame, shame, and the sense that I couldn’t live life the same as others anymore. All of the anxieties about relationships, sex, and love — irrational anxieties that I had overcome with knowledge about how you can live a normal life with HIV — suddenly, they were back.
But I didn’t let this moment of casual stigma defeat me. It was to be the moment that motivated me to become an activist — and I haven’t looked back since.
I began by campaigning and raising awareness with the Terrence Higgins Trust. Just by saying publicly “I’m living with HIV” was a weight off my shoulders. The compassion and support I received from others was the most empowering feeling.
Then, in 2017, Youth Stop AIDS gave me the opportunity to tour the country with my story as part of their Speaker Tour — and it was with them that I came to understand the global picture.
I was excited to discover that, as a global community, we had agreed to end AIDS by 2030. What a big, inspiring goal. A target made possible by the significant progress we’ve made with medical science, access to treatment, and knowledge about prevention.
But I also discovered that despite this progress, governments across the world had started to take their eye off the ball. A funding gap had opened up and political will had started to fade. This complacency is a killer. While governments quietly assume that HIV/AIDS isn’t the threat it used to be, it remains one of the biggest killers of adolescents in the world.
The truth is that our significant progress is now at risk. Five years on from when we set that big goal to end AIDS by 2030, we are now off track. If we continue as we are, we will miss our goal and, in some areas, risk going backwards.
This World AIDS Day needs to be the starting gun for a decade of delivery. I hope the political parties standing in the upcoming UK general election are taking note of the vital work left to be done. To achieve the Global Goals, the next government must keep its promise to meet the 0.7% Gross National Income (GNI) target for overseas development aid and target this spending to ensure we leave no one behind.
Youth Stop AIDS is campaigning to ensure that all candidates standing in the upcoming election pledge their support for ending AIDS. But we only have a small window of opportunity and need everyone to take action. You can find out more about Youth Stop AIDS' work here.
Alex's experiences when filming with First Dates was widely reported when he spoke out about it in 2016. Channel 4 reportedly acknowledged the claims, and said in a statement: “The welfare and privacy of all our contributors is of paramount importance. Anyone who has disclosed their HIV status on the programme has done so through personal choice and not at the request of the production team."
- If you're in the UK, you can find more information about NHS support services for HIV/AIDS here.
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