First Ireland >>> Then the World |

5 mins

First Ireland >>> Then the World

HIV activists Robbie Lawlor and (drag sensation) Veda Lady have become champions within the HIV community in Ireland. Brian Dillon spoke to the pair before they jetted off to World Pride in Sydney to take over down under.

Photo by Babs Daly.

Robbie and Veda are the fabulous hosts of Poz Vibe, a podcast for people living with HIV in Ireland, their friends, and allies. By giving a platform to people who live with HIV, Robbie and Veda’s mission to smash the stigma has made a huge impact on listeners. But not all stigma has disappeared, as the pair highlighted the fact that they are hosts of a podcast focusing on people living with HIV travelling to Australia - but people living with HIV often cannot attain residency visas in Australia.

“HIV took me away from Australia, and now it has brought me back,” Robbie explained.

Veda added: “On our very first recording, Robbie said that he was not allowed to emigrate to Australia because of his HIV status. At that moment, I already had this fantasy in my head that the podcast would eventually take us there. I didn’t realise it would happen so quickly.”

Robbie and Veda’s invite from The Irish Consulate and Sydney Queer Irish isn’t all that surprising when you learn about the impact their podcast has had since it was first released.

Robbie said, “I was in Canada for AIDS Conference, which is the biggest health conference in the world, and I had people from Australia telling me they love the podcast. Our activism has been noticed and it has been appreciated.”

While in Sydney, Veda and Robbie will attend a screening of the film How To Tell A Secret, which explores the complexity of living with HIV in Ireland, from disclosing status to the stigma attached to it. They will also record a season of their podcast, which will be released soon after. Veda revealed their expectations for when they are in Sydney, explaining, “Nerves, yeah, I have some. But I have a lot of excitement too. An awful lot of high hopes and ambitions as to what we can do when we’re there. Nothing too glam, really just build more community and connect with queer people. Collect amazing stories and make friends. I think that’s what the power of the podcast really is. It’s those relationships and people it has brought into my life.”

Robbie added: “Myself and Veda have made so many friends along the way; going to festivals together and working together. I’m so excited by the power of us two and the magnetism that Veda brings.”

Explaining what fans of the podcast can expect from the new season, Robbie revealed, “The new season of the podcast will be a little different . It won’t focus just on HIV. It will probably focus much broader, on interesting queer people in Sydney and also the Irish diaspora over there, especially the queer diaspora. We really want to understand what it’s like for Irish queer people to live over there.

“We’re really going to bring in a whole new host of hosting skills, relating to new, different and interesting people.”

Veda added, “We are calling this season ‘The Good Hosts’. Where that idea came from is an amazing activist Kalee G. She said to us in our last season, ‘HIV is in my body, and I just want to be a good host’. It’s one of my favourite quotes. It really changed me to hear that. We’re going to be good hosts on our podcast, but more importantly good hosts to HIV in our own bodies for our own health, well-being and mental health, and have a good time and not allow any kind of stigma hold us back.”

Robbie furthered, “We can’t get a residency visa [in Australia] because we live with HIV. We’re there as guests of honour, yet we’re not welcome there. The ban on people living with HIV getting residency visas in New Zealand was lifted. Australia needs to catch up along with the other 50 countries around the world that also do not allow us to get residency visas.

“It’s quite layered, in terms of ‘The Good Host’. It’s going to be really reflective in our podcast.”

While their invite to World Pride in Sydney is something to be celebrated, Robbie was quick to remind us that it’s also an excellent opportunity to shine a light on a variety of issues that affect people living with HIV around the world: “One thing I always talk about is access to medicines, especially when we talk about HIV or Hepatitis C treatment , which our queer family in places like Uganda or Zimbabwe don’t have. I think it’s important to call that out and use our privilege.

“Apart from challenging Australia to allow people who are living with HIV to emigrate there, a lot of what we will focus on is fair and equitable access to medicine and treatment for everybody living with HIV.”

The success of Poz Vive can be attributed to many things, one being Robbie and Veda’s chemistry as hosts, inviting listeners to connect with their experiences and their guests, but also be entertained along the way.

“We always have our arms around each other and we’re always laughing. We have this really dumb chemistry. I think that’s all we really need to bring, apart from some money and some swimming trunks,” Veda said.

“We want to give a mix. We want to give the fun parts of HIV, and the sad things about it. We want to make fun and litter in facts along the way. That’s what makes it really digestible to people. It’s not an entertainment show, but at the same time, it’s entertainment ,” Robbie added.

The main goal of Poz Vibe is to break down the stigma - something that people around the globe who live with HIV are faced with. Robbie explains that when he was diagnosed, he had unconditional love from those closest to him, and this is something he wants to give back to others. “HIV doesn’t make me a bad person. If someone says something bad to me, it’s a reflection of them or their level of knowledge on HIV. That’s where the superpower comes from.

“I wanted to give the power that I was given through my friends and family back to people. I found power in trying to help people feel that and understand that.”

Echoing Robbie’s sentiment , quick-witted Veda added, “It’s not me, it’s U=U.”

Sydney World Pride takes place between February 17 and March 5, during which time Veda and Robbie will record a season of Poz Vibe, connect with members of our queer family from around the world and continue their impactful work as hosts of a podcast that truly makes a difference.

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