About a month ago I met up with activist and artist Will St Leger to talk about an upcoming exhibition he’s putting together for ACT UP Dublin. The more we talked, the more I came to realise how little I knew about the extent of Ireland’s HIV crisis. There’s been a four-fold increase in new HIV diagnoses in Ireland in the last decade and no one seems to be talking about it.
Through this project we wanted to reset people’s assumptions by reminding them that HIV can affect anybody, and also to help eliminate the stigma and shame attached to it. Will put it quite simply that people seem to forget that the first letter in HIV stands for, ‘human’, but many choose to focus on the last letter, which stands for ‘virus’.
We put out the word across social media to find participants to pose for a series with everyday people showing their solidarity by holding a sign reading, ‘HUMAN’ which was designed by Will. Our goal was to get as many people as possible and have the images installed together in the windows of Filmbase as part of the show.
The response from people who wanted to take part was really incredible and I owe them all thanks. New people were getting in touch daily, all of whom were excited to be involved. It quickly became one of my favourite projects I’ve worked on to date. The pace over the last few weeks has been quick and I’ve loved it, going to meet people and getting to listen to their reasons for wanting to get involved. The enthusiasm around an issue clearly close to a lot of people’s hearts only left me wanting to get more involved.
“I was diagnosed at 19, so I’ve been navigating HIV all my adult life: the meds, the disclosure anxiety, the freak-outs when I failed to use a condom, the stigma (both perceived and real). We’ve learnt over the years that HIV does not have a massive impact on quality of life – I’ll live longer than the average diabetes or cancer patient; I’m on meds so I can’t transmit it – but none of these learnings have filtered down to the general populace. Joe Bloggs down the pub still assumes that I’m terminally ill, that I’m a slut, that I’m morally culpable – and so do some friends and family, most likely. That’s the sore spot that I want to address by being part of this project.
“I became involved in the project after seeing a post on Instagram from ACT UP Dublin. I’m involved in sexuality education research and also run talks and workshops around the country, so projects like this, which can start conversations about HIV and other sexual health related areas, are important to me. I think that education is the way forward in terms of fighting the rise in infections.
If people have more knowledge about STIs, how they can be transmitted and how they can all be treated, then the stigma around them could be lessened, which in turn would encourage people to reach out for information and get themselves tested.”
The HUMAN project is close to my heart as it confronts head-on the stigma around HIV that is so damaging to all of us, not just for people who are HIV positive. As a mother of small kids I want to be part of changing how, when and why we talk about sex and STIs in Ireland. Let’s talk!
As a member of the LGBT+ community and as someone who has had loved ones personally affected by HIV, I stand for the HUMAN project because I am a humanist, and believe every human deserves the right to dignity, care and acceptance. Stigmatisation is an outdated way to live life -let’s educate and live in love instead!
“We still don’t talk about HIV openly enough. People living with HIV are human like everyone else, but somehow it’s okay to think that they are different, or should be hidden away in shame and secrecy. That just contributes to the rising rate of new infections each year. It’s not okay, not ever, but we as a community can work together to change it.”
When I heard about the HUMAN project I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. I was affected by AIDS when I was a child and lost my next door neighbour. He was a loving creative man that brought so much joy and wonder to my little world, and I loved him. Most people knew him as The Dice Man, but I knew him as Tom, the caring man next door who always had time to feed a little girl’s curiosity.
That was over 20 years ago and Ireland has moved backward in its treatment of the HIV and AIDS crisis. Let’s not forget the love of those we’ve lost and use it to help keep others.”
CORMAC Ó CINNÉIDE
The HUMAN project to me is about taking responsibility for your own social awareness. I have friends from many walks of life; and the risk of HIV, among other STIs, is a reality for all. I feel this project provides a platform for people to both acknowledge their own part and to be socially responsible, by making a small gesture and putting themselves out there to help raise awareness for others.