Will Kennedy is a member of ACT UP Cork. As a person living with HIV, he talks about the continued existence of stigma in the gay community, sharing the U=U message and his efforts to create a peer mentoring support programme for others who have been recently diagnosed.
I work with a support group here in Cork and the sheer amount of people who still don’t want it known they have HIV or will not talk about it. I know people who go to the clinic in Dublin because they don’t want to be seen in the clinic in Cork. They are afraid of the ignorance of people. Some of them won’t even talk to their GP, which is vital.
In my own experiences as a gay man, I find other gay men can be very stigmatising. The last time I disclosed my status, the reaction was appalling. I was called ‘filth’ – why did filth like me think somebody like him would be interested. I mentioned U=U to him (Undetectable Equals Untransmittable – when a person with HIV has a viral load that is not detectable, they cannot pass on HIV through sex.) and, showing how ignorant he was; he said ‘someone like you would probably make that up’.
There’s assumptions on what I’ve been doing, the kind of sexual behaviours I’ve been engaging in. It’s a moral judgement.
On ACT UP Cork
ACT UP Cork started about a year ago, we work closely with ACT UP Dublin. I was the representative from Cork when we went to see the Minister for Health about PrEP. We lobby politicians for better treatment. It’s mainly political activism, but we do what we can to get information out there.
On Undetectable Equals Untransmittable
U=U isn’t be shared widely enough. For people like me living with HIV, it’s life-changing and liberating. It needs to be shared everywhere. We need to get the message out there about how people can live longer and better.
I’m healthy; I’m in a hillwalker’s group, I’m in Front Runners here in Cork, I don’t think I’ve let HIV affect aspects of my health. I generally don’t even think about it – I take my two pills in the morning with my breakfast, and that’s it.
On a peer mentoring support programme
I’m organising a peer mentoring support programme for people living with HIV. I went as far as Belfast and London to do my training because there’s no funding for it here in Ireland. The plan is to make this a country-wide network from Positive groups working with Positive people.
We’ve just set up a Positive Cork here now. We want to get involved with the clinics, so when you get a newly diagnosed person, you have an initial meeting, you tell them this is going to be between six to 12 meetings, you tell them what they can expect from the course, help them deal with their HIV diagnosis.
If there’s any follow up needed, we could go to the relevant agencies with them if they want. It’s not just meeting and having a chat. Hopefully, at the end of the 12 sessions, they will be able to take off on their own. The whole idea is to get people not to be afraid, to talk about it.
This story originally appeared in GCN’s August 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.
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