Representing Australia in bobsleigh gave me a public platform, and for that I’m thankful.
With that comes the opportunity and the responsibility to champion causes I’m passionate about. One of those is reducing the stigma around HIV. And when better than on World AIDS Day?
If I can encourage those who are like I was in my early 20s to educate themselves, perhaps one day the miseducation associated with HIV will be a distant memory.
I was fortunate enough to grow up mostly after the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80s and early 90s. Being born in 1987, I was either kept from the media coverage or simply too young to realize what was going on.
‘Through education, I was able to overcome the attitude I once carried’
I turned 18 in 2005, and moved to Sydney to live my life as an out gay man.
But, I’d heard stories and watched documentaries about the era, which seemed an all too distant time for me. I truly felt this wasn’t something I needed to know about or even worry about. Through no fault of our own, for my generation, our flip idea of HIV came from a lack of education, knowledge, and – in turn – the stigma associated with HIV.
Obviously, I realized this stigma was due to my lack of education on the topic. HIV and AIDS were subjects I had little to no education on.
With this realization, I knew it was time to educate myself — not only for myself, but for those around me. I spoke to my peers, some of whom witnessed firsthand the effects of the epidemic in the 80s and early 90s.
I also read books, watched documentaries, spoke with doctors, and reached out to HIV organisations similar to Terrence Higgins Trust.
Embarrassingly, all of these experiences confirmed how little I had been taught about HIV and AIDS.
Along this journey of self-education, I learnt the falsities that my inexperience had created. I recognized this was something those around me also carried. Because of my own ignorance and naivety, what I believed turned out to be wrong on so many levels.
For example, I’ve now learned that HIV is not the death sentence I thought it was. It’s also completely untrue that people living with HIV can’t live full lives. In fact, we now know people diagnosed with HIV on effective treatment can’t pass it on.
‘This isn’t an issue that only affects gay men’
Now 30, and a lot more mature, those around me have begun to open up about their status. I also now know that several of my friends were in fact positive this entire time and never felt like they could reach out to me. Was it because they weren’t ready? Is it because things have gotten better for our community? Or perhaps, they saw I wasn’t ready to disassociate the beliefs I carried from the realities of my friends testing positive.
This is something I will never really know, but I do know they now feel comfortable confiding in me about it. Through education, I was able to overcome the attitude I once carried. It is very much something I’m glad I did, not only for myself but mostly for my friends and community.
I’m proud these type of beliefs have begun falling away and there is a change, not only for our LGBTI community, but for the broader worldwide community itself.
This isn’t an issue that only affects gay men, but one that affects people of all backgrounds across the globe. It’s just that my community has shouldered a huge amount of the burden of the epidemic. This puts us in a powerful position to be the champions and to continue to overcome stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS through impactful education efforts.
That’s why I wear my red ribbon on World AIDS Day.
Simon Dunn is the first openly gay man to represent Australia in bobsleigh. He is a columnist and plays in the Kings Cross Steelers rugby club.