GMFA is continuing its strong run of work tackling HIV stigma (‘HIV-Positive Guys Reading Mean Messages’ / HIV Stripped Bare) with a new video which shows gay men who don’t and won't allow stigma to affect their lives. Despite their status they are living their lives to the fullest.

Eleven gay men living with HIV stood in front of our camera and declared to the world their status and discussed how it has not held them back – whether that is through the career they wanted, the sports they play, the people they love or their sex life. These men wanted to declare to the world that they are living with HIV and they aren’t ashamed.

As part of the Living With HIV campaign, GMFA will also communicate small bitesize pieces of information to help people become more informed about HIV, which includes what ‘HIV-undetectable’ means, what viral load is, the importance of testing and treatment, and what it means to be in a serodiscordant relationship. GMFA will also be encouraging others to come out of the ‘viral closet’ and tell everyone that they may live with HIV but they are living their life, with the hashtag #LIVINGwithHIV.

One of the stars, Paul, explained why he decided to take part in the video: "I've been positive for 15 months now (undetectable for 11). I have friends who worked in sexual health so knew the basics about HIV and treatment etc, but still found help and comfort in videos and campaigns. I wanted to help give back and let others know it's ok and you can keep going despite your status. This is also my way of "coming out" of the HIV closet, I have friends who know about my status and I don't keep it secret but I still feel nervous whenever I tell someone new. This way I won't need to tell any more friends, they'll just know and get an initial positive (excuse the pun) view on it."

A sentiment shared by fellow star, James: “The diagnosis and everything that was going around that time was far, far from plain sailing but through it all I developed an outlook on life that I'm now working towards sharing with the world. Stigma only exists if it is exists inside of yourself. Those who understand the subject will stand with you. Those who don't won't. The only thing separating the two is a difference in education.”

"HIV stigma is still a massive issue for those living with HIV,” says GMFA’s Interim CEO, Ian Howley. "In 2016, people living with HIV should not be feared or made to feel ashamed for having the virus. Although recent work by GMFA and others has helped shift some of the stigma associated with the virus there is still a huge mountain to climb. In our recent survey, 90% of the HIV-positive men said they believe that stigma about HIV is likely to discourage gay men who’ve tested positive from disclosing their status to others (friends, family, sex partners, etc.) – and 75% are themselves reluctant to tell others for fear of stigma. 

For HIV stigma to be truly banished, attitudes within the gay community and beyond must continue to be challenged in order for them to change. HIV stigma doesn’t just affect those living with HIV but also those who are afraid to test for HIV because they’d ‘rather not know’. This type of attitude can be dangerous and lead to late diagnosis (meaning less effective treatment and more chance of passing on HIV to others).

Shining the spotlight on the subject of HIV stigma through campaigns like this will help towards creating a shift in consciousness, attitude and understanding of the prejudices faced by those living with HIV. That said, there is still more work to do until we get to the point where we respond to, and accept, someone living with HIV in the same way we would respond to someone living with diabetes. It will be a long time before someone will be able to go a whole year without encountering stigma, but I hope that the more we focus on empowering gay men living with HIV to take control of their lives, stand up to HIV stigma, the fewer people there will be who will continue to hold such ignorant and stigmatising views. This campaign is all about empowering gay and bisexual men living with HIV to stand up and show our community that HIV is something that is a part of them, not who they are as people and doesn’t hold them back."