Alex Sparrowhawk has lived with HIV for ten years and the hardest part of his diagnosis is the ongoing stigma he faces, especially on the dating and sex scenes.
He recalls one horrific incident at a party where a guy he fancied lost interest in him because of his HIV status.
‘It was just after I’d come out more publicly about my status and I was at a house party,’ Sparrowhawk told Gay Star News.
A a guy he knew a little bit started talking to him, commending Sparrowhawk’s bravery in coming out publicly.
‘But then he said, “I always fancied you, but now I wouldn’t touch you with a barge pole”. And this was is in the kitchen with loads of people of there.’
Sparrowhawk is not alone in his experience. New research has revealed ‘that attitudes around HIV remain stuck in the 1980s’.
HIV advocacy group Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) commissioned the survey through YouGov. It showed stigma still persists about HIV transmission. That’s despite scientific evidence proving you can’t pass on HIV if you’re on effective treatment and have undetectable viral loads.
THT’s research showed 47% of gay and lesbian Brits are still not aware of this fact. That’s compared to 23% of bisexual respondents.
But 68% of gay and lesbian Brits said they were comfortable going on a date with someone living with HIV. But drew the line at sex. Only 45% said they would feel uncomfortable having sex with someone living with HIV, even if they’re on effective treatment.
In the UK a huge 97% of those diagnosed and on treatment are virally suppressed. That specifically means levels of virus in the blood are so low that they can’t pass on HIV.
The more commonly known term for this scientific fact is U=U, undetectable equal untransmissible.
For Sparrowhawk, who face this stigma everyday, he wished more people knew the facts.
‘It’s frustrating that we’re still at this point, where we even have the science to back up the fact that people like me can’t pass the virus on,’ he said.
‘And yet, there’s still people who are ignorant and if they’re not listening to science then they’re making a judgement about me as a person.
‘That can be quite difficult to think about.’
The YouGov survey also revealed that stigmatising attitudes are the lowest among gay people. When asked about feeling comfortable kissing someone living with HIV, 20% of gay and lesbian Brits said they would feel uncomfortable compared to 48% of the general population.
There is no risk of getting HIV through kissing, sharing utensils or other day to day contact.
Last year, MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle revealed in parliament he was living with HIV. Part of his motivation for doing this was to provide the public with up-to-date information about HIV.
‘One of the most empowering things in my life since being diagnosed is knowing that I can’t pass on HIV,’ he said.
‘I can say with confidence that effective treatment means I can’t transmit HIV to my sexual partner and I have a perfectly healthy life, which is absolutely transformative.
‘During my speech in November when I disclosed to the world I was living with HIV, I said this news should go totally unnoticed but it didn’t. The stigma surrounding HIV is still far too high and that’s why we need to double our efforts to stamp out misinformation about HIV.’