Welcomed and validated

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24 Jul 2018

MONDAY 23 JULY 2018

Having survived the trek from the Antipodes to the Netherlands I now embark on negotiating the largest HIV/AIDS conference in the world: AIDS 2018 Amsterdam. As an HIV-positive man of 27 years I temporarily feel in the majority and my self-esteem is given a lovely boost. Myths, misunderstandings and ignorance often mean HIV-positive people feel like damaged goods; to feel welcomed and validated is life affirming.

With my dogged refusal not to be overwhelmed by public transport I immediately hired a bike and attempted to familiarise myself with the daily commute to the conference venue. Negotiating a city with radiating rings of roads and canals and a spider’s web of bike lanes, alleys and tramlines is no easy feat — especially with the distraction of architectural and human beauty en masse!

On Sunday 22 July, MPact hosted the Out With It pre-meeting, which focused on the developing innovative solutions to the challenges of young gay and bisexual men around the world. This was a reminder of the huge challenges LGBTIQ people (in this case MSM) around the world face under the spectre of criminalisation and how the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals cannot be realised whilst human rights and structural barriers remain in place.

Monday saw the Global Village light up with thousands of people sharing their work, stories and strategies to bring an end to HIV. The condom couture was a winner, and the high visibility of sex worker advocates from around the world is a reminder that the fight for legal frameworks and protections is complex and protracted. 

I prepared for my shifts at the Disclosure Sofa, a community cultural engagement activity that provides a space for all people — regardless of HIV status — to speak out against HIV stigma and discrimination. I can’t wait to hear the amazing stories; some will be sad but many will be stories of love, resilience and spunky defiance!

TOBIN SAUNDERS