The much-anticipated Student Stop AIDS Speakers Tour came to Sussex University on Wednesday 19th February. The Stop AIDS mini bus to get to Brighton had to travel down from Manchester during the day; so was at the complete mercy of England’s motorway system and its inevitable droves of traffic. Expecting their journey to have had a physical and mental toll on the Stop AIDS group, I was anticipated meeting a group of carsick, wired individuals but upon their arrival I realised my hesitations were far from true. I had met the three speakers the week prior at the Stop AIDS parliamentary event, where they had shared their inspirational stories in front of MPs. Even though I was now meeting them in the far-less glamorous setting of my near dilapidated student house compared to the Lloyd George Parliament Committee Room; their great enthusiasm and character remained. Making me confident that the evening’s event would be as successful and inspiring as what I had seen in Parliament.
Whilst I was greeting the speakers and the Stop AIDS team, the other members of Sussex Stop AIDS with the assistance of coordinator Saoirse were on campus campaigning and promoting the evening’s Speakers Tour. Dressed as wolves in sheep’s clothing to highlight the malicious nature of the EU Free Trade Agreements, they generated a lot of attention from other Sussex students. Harnessing this attention, we managed to get lots of students to sign transparent letters to their MEPS asking for them to only support EU Free Trade Agreements that were transparent and open to public scrutiny.
With a pile of transparent letters now signed and the start of the Speakers Tour drawing close, the speakers and myself joined the group in time to help prepare the lecture theatre for the event. Before we knew it, the audience grew to over 50 and with seats now at a premium, a few members of Sussex Stop AIDS had to take to sitting on the stairs. The audience was a very welcomed mix of students, academics and representatives from several HIV organisations such as THT, Avert, Sussex Beacon and the National AIDS Trust (NAT).
Before Daisy, Nick and Jay started sharing their stories, the audience had the opportunity to hear from Alice Booth, the Director of the Speaking Volumes Project and Susan Cole a policy officer from NAT. Alice discussing Speaking Volumes, an upcoming project that has given HIV positive people the chance to share their experiences about living with HIV through a series of interactive books was a great introduction to the event and highlighted some of the great work being conducted by UK-based HIV organizations. Susan Cole extended on this idea in her short speech about the NAT Activist Network, an online campaign network that anyone who wants to fight stigma and protect the rights of people living with HIV can join. The campaign actions only take a minute to do but can make a real difference to the lives of people living with HIV; so a great opportunity for effective arm-chair activism for the time-pressed student.
Alice and Susan’s short speeches on their work in HIV acted as a great introduction for Jay, Daisy and Nick to then share their stories on their experiences living with HIV. The audience and myself found it very interesting to hear their stories and then inspiring to learn of the great work they all did after being diagnosed. Jay, a hemophilic man from China who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion through establishing the Buyers Club gave his friends access to life-saving and affordable medication. Daisy, an HIV positive sex worker from Uganda discussed how she established an organization that promotes sexual health testing amongst sex workers and the rights of people living with HIV. Nick, a gay man from Scotland living with HIV discussed how stigma still very much remains in the UK but through his efforts in hosting creative writing workshops for people affected by HIV, it gave needed support.
After the speakers shared their stories and discussed the truly great work they have done, you could tell the whole room was left inspired and eager to extend their involvement in Student Stop AIDS and other HIV organizations to ensure that the AIDS epidemic is ended this generation.
To find out more about the NAT Activist Network and to get involved please visit: http://www.lifewithhiv.org.uk/hiv-activists-network