Jonathan Blake, believed to be the first person to be diagnosed with HIV in London, has shared a heartfelt message to his younger peers: ‘It is still with us.’
‘The most important thing is that HIV has not gone away,’ he said when asked to share some words for gay men who can’t remember or didn’t live through the crisis years of the 80s and 90s.
The activist, whose doctors gave him the diagnosis ‘London 1’ some 35 years ago in 1982, was speaking to Gay Star News at Monday’s Terrence Higgins Trust-presented screening of documentary After 82: The Untold Story of the AIDS Crisis in the UK.
‘There is no cure, it is for life’
‘It is still with us, there is no cure, it is for life,’ the 68-year-old continued. ‘The important thing is to understand it and to not be afraid of it.
‘And I think there are all kinds of ways to help deal with it. Because, for instance there’s [PEP], Post Exposure Prophylaxis, so that can help.
‘But I think the most important thing is learn about the history. That’s why this film is so amazing. There are a few of us who are still alive. A lot of people are no longer with us. It’s really important our story is told.
‘There’s also another film that’s going to come out called AIDS Since the 80s. And there’s a whole cultural archive that’s been lodged in the London Metropolitan [University] which anybody can access if they want to know more about the history, they can find that.’
‘One has to be brave’
Jonathan also spoke out in support of Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, who revealed last week that she is HIV positive after an ex tried to blackmail her.
‘This is the same situation that there was for Charlie Sheen,’ said Jonathan. ‘I think that’s it’s brilliant that she did it. I think it’s completely wrong that she was coerced. But all power to being brave enough to do it. There are many positives to it. But one has to be brave.
‘I was really fortunate in a way, in that I did the first Terrence Higgins Trust campaign for safer sex for gay men. There was this poster campaign that run on the Tube and the buses. I remember being down in Clapham North Station, one of those where the platform’s the island and the tracks are on the either side. There were three huge posters of my on one wall, and three on the other! I thought: “There’s one too many Jonathan Blakes here!” so turned and fled!
I thought: “Oh, I’m going to get such terrible grief for this. People are going to know.” I love going to the public steam baths. I thought: “Nobody is going to want to bath with me”. It never happened, it never materialized.’
‘PrEP doesn’t stop Hep C’
Asked what he thinks about the increasing prevalence of PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis], he said his initial response was: ‘I was slightly worried.’
‘I thought: “This is fantastic because there’s the possibility of stopping HIV”, but what it doesn’t stop is syphilis, gonorrhoea, hepatitis C. Hep C is in a way far worse and more difficult to combat than HIV and there are lots of medications for HIV, whereas for Hep C there isn’t.
‘There is this misconception that HIV’s gone away and there’s a cure. There isn’t. I think people have to be sensible. I also think what’s important is that there should be serious education, not just about sex, but about relationships and consent. Those are really important issues.’