It’s a midweek evening, and deep in the bowels of The George a coven of drag queens are getting ready for Veda Lady’s Witchy Wednesday show. Among them are two guests: Ongina, a renowned drag queen best known for her appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Robbie Lawlor, activist and co-host of the Poz Vibe podcast with Veda. The third season of the podcast begins this week, and this Wednesday night show is its launch party.
Poz Vibe, which first launched in the run-up to Pride in 2021, was created to allow people living with HIV a space to tell their stories and to hear from others in the community with similar experiences. The podcast simultaneously informs and educates listeners while allowing authentic experiences of living with HIV to take centre stage. It is particularly remarkable for the blend of wit, warmth, and genuine emotion and sense of care that Veda, Robbie, and a host of weekly guests bring to each episode.
Poz Vibe is an example of just how much the conversation around HIV has shifted quite drastically since Ongina revealed her positive status on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2007. “I think people are finding it easier to talk about their status because you get people that support you. People are a little bit more receptive to the conversation. But there are still people who battle being true to themselves because of the stigma associated with the virus,” she explains.
“With conversations like we have on Poz Vibe and conversations that I have when I travel, or with organisations I have partnered with, it opens so much more for the HIV community, which then leads to hopefully education and ending the stigma that’s associated with the virus. So it’s a little easier nowadays, obviously versus back then, but we still have a lot to bear.”
“Being able to be open about their status and to share their story through media like the podcast has been relieving”, Ongina tells me. “The best thing about being free and open about my status is I get to live my life, unapologetically” she explains.
“And the other great thing is I get to meet people with similar experiences to me. So it gives me hope to know that I’m not alone, and that there are other people out there experiencing the same as me and that we’re all just living, thriving, and doing the best we can. I get to meet amazing people like Veda, and Robbie — obviously they paid me to say that!”
A resource like the podcast also acts as an opportunity to educate those with less knowledge about the realities of living with HIV today, in a way that they may not hear about through more traditional means.
“I think there’s so much more that we could be doing,” says Ongina. “One of the things that I think needs to happen is conversation about HIV in schools, because I think if we teach the younger generation then it can expand to better conversations in the future. If we start those conversations in school, about the history and where we’re going, they should be part of either sex ed and or history, because it’s both. Starting it in schools with the younger generation can help normalise that conversation.”
Ongina’s advocacy and activism are matched well with the podcast’s goals, and earlier in the day she recorded her second appearance for the upcoming season, having been a guest last year. “It’s obviously not going to be the last, but this is the first time I came to the studio and I had so much fun with this episode,” Ongina explains.
“The conversation was just like a great sit down amongst friends, which is always the best interview.”
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“And we loved it too”, agrees Veda. “We had so much fun, and we had the full spectrum of emotion: the best laughter and tears. It was great.”
“Veda came to me after season two, and they said ‘I have an idea for season three'”, recalls Robbie. “Let’s bring the Poz Vibe international. And they said ‘let’s call it Poz World: The Movement,’ obviously inspired by Spice World: The Movie. And we have loads of puns!”
“Well, we’re all about Poz power, the Poz world, and all you need is positivity really at the end of the day. We just want to fight the stigma — zig-a-zig-ah!” continues Veda. “But really what we wanted to play with was that idea of those girls taking this empowerment that they felt through their art around the world and we want to do the same for Poz power as they managed to do.”
“The theme is power”, Robbie adds, “How do people empower themselves? How do they retain power? How do they lose power? All with the overarching theme of HIV. So we’re very interested in reclaiming power and there’s nothing more powerful than girl power.”
Poz Vibe is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and episode one featuring Ongina is out now.
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