By Alexander Leon | @alexand_erleon

It's safe to say that when it comes to equality within the LGBTQ+ community, we still have a long way to go. Whether it's lack of diverse representation in the media, equal access to health and social services, or fostering support for our trans siblings, our community is still learning how to treat all of its members with equal weight and dignity.

To me, this is part of the magic of GMFA's 'Me. Him. Us.' HIV testing campaign - not only does it highlight an important inequality faced by gay and bisexual South Asian men, namely education on and access to HIV prevention strategies, but it's an ingenious double whammy - we educate our community while showcasing some of its less celebrated members.

Being South Asian and same-sex attracted can be a delicate balancing act. For me, the clash of trying to adhere to cultural norms while navigating a burgeoning queer identity was a deeply isolating experience. It seemed impossible to stay true to my authentic self while maintaining a meaningful relationship with my loved ones whose culture or religion sometimes dictated intolerance. What's more, as I began to come into my own as a gay man, it became achingly evident that there was meagre representation of South Asian gay and bisexual men in LGBTQ+ social spaces and media. This stark reality painted against the backdrop of a rich history of queer culture being celebrated in South Asia pre-British colonisation, was enough to spark a profound identity crisis. 

Sometimes it felt like I had to choose between aspects of who I was - it seemed improbable that I could happily be both. As a result of this myriad of difficulties, many South Asian queer men choose not to be out - sometimes to maintain healthy relationships with their families (an important tenet of South Asian culture), sometimes because they don't think it’s feasible to be proudly desi and LGBTQ+. As a result, these men don't always have access to information on how to practice safe sex with same sex partners, and particularly how to protect themselves from HIV. As per Public Health England’s 2018 statistics, there are currently 1,655 'Asian' men (inclusive of South Asian) in the UK living with HIV. However, that’s just those who have been diagnosed.

Data shows that Asian men are not testing as regularly as other populations and are being diagnosed at a later stage with a much higher viral load. In other words, Asian men aren’t testing as much or engaging with sexual health services and are at a higher risk of passing on HIV to others.

Me. Him. Us. is important because it delivers a crucial message on HIV prevention to a demographic who sorely needs to hear it. What's more, our deliberate choice to place campaign ads in LGBTQ+ social spaces around the country sends a clear message to any South Asian men feeling the particular sense of isolation that comes from simultaneously experiencing homophobia from your ethnic community and racism from the LGBTQ+ community - you, your identity, your life and your choices are valid. To be desi and queer is an immense privilege, even if it doesn't always feel like it. And with the help of campaigns like Me. Him. Us., the rest of the world is finally catching up.

Find out more about Me. Him. Us.: