Part 2: HIV Stigma in the Workplace
This is the second of a series of blogs that John has written specifically for Positive Allies to share. The blogs will recount his experience of living with HIV in the workplace and will show the devastating impact that HIV-related stigma can have in the workplace. Read part one of our blog, below.
2023 was definitely not ready for my news. The shockwave has arrived, and it has been just as bad as I expected. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been threatened with jail in the last month, been hit with sentences like “you’ve been playing a dangerous game” and then the phrase that’s just repeated over and over and over again “you should have told me." The first threats of violence have landed, and people will come to my place to sort me out.
My ex-wife and kids are safely 287 miles away from me now until this all blows over; we speak on the phone, and she asks me to please make sure none of this comes anywhere near the kids. I assure her everything is coming to me here, I’ve done this on purpose, once it was inevitable, I couldn’t contain it. I made the decision to release it on social media, get this all out the way in one month, brute force attack – everyone to just come at me and hit me with everything they have and get it out their system. You have no idea how resilient I am under fire.
All around me though I feel concern, people either think I’m nuts, or I’m about to have a breakdown. It’s because I’ve talked about raw feelings on social media and everyone thinks I’ve went soft. I would argue now that I’ve faced up to this and my feelings surrounding it, that it’s made me stronger.
My school friends have been amazing. The messages of support have really spurred me on over the last few weeks and lots of people have made contact to say they are with me, but as you get closer to me, the news is harder to deal with, and there are mixed emotions, something we will hopefully have to weather and move on. I had very little time to prepare for this, as I was obviously not expecting any of this to happen. I have asked the local council for some leniency on some issues we were working through, and they came through today, which was like a ray of sunlight, and I sincerely thank them for this.
My ex-employer I get very little back from, apart from the fact that, apparently this is all my fault, I negligently left my pills to be found and then I purposely told social media about my disease, as I’m a 'money grabber' and 'out for a claim.' I have no words for this.
There are four areas I must now focus on to try and make things better for everyone. I’m 100% sure if everyone had the Positive Allies charter mark, all of the above would never have happened, initiatives like these need to be pushed further and wider.
Firstly, the messaging of U=U is going out, and I commend everyone spending time and money to get that out there but, in my opinion, it’s going to the wrong place. Its very easy to find that messaging within the healthcare, or the LGBTQ world, but in the heterosexual world it seems only at the beginning, and this is where I have to focus on.
Secondly, the people who want to beat me up, the people that want me in jail, I have to educate them, because when they come at me I will fight them with the truth and facts. I won't apologise for anything that I’ve done, because I’ve never put anyone in danger, and so their argument is based on 30 year old information that is no longer relevant. However, I won’t berate them for their lack of education, we just need to deal with it and move on.
I must also somehow close the wound of how this information was ever leaked in the first place, and just accept that I will never know the truth. The casualty of this fact means I have to burn relationships with people I really care about - they were put into a completely impossible situation through no fault of their own, apart from being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
And finally, there is a gaping wound I have to try and at least repair. When I realised there was nothing left I could do to stop this crazy situation, my girlfriend was pregnant, and it was genuinely feeling like everything at that time was working against us. I’m only one guy and I cant fight off the entire world. She would have been very heavily pregnant right now, and the stress that was put on her was unbearable, so the pain of the miscarriage now lives with us for ever. The strain I see on the faces of everyone around me, and the pressure of the situation, is crippling. Now my best friend and I have been shouting at each other, and I know that he has only got my best interests at heart, and that for me is now the point that I must stop. I asked my girlfriend to move out for 6 months to protect her from me, and our relationship has spiraled out of control, to the point that we can’t occupy the same space without falling out with each other.
My reality is that I’m just used to operating in all this chaos, but it wears everyone down. The people who have come after me will never admit it, but I have got inside of their heads and made them ask some serious questions about themselves, and I don’t think they can face the answers they face. So, I will bring hostilities with my ex-employer to a sharp end, as I refuse to have another argument with someone I care about, over a situation that happened in the workplace. Its time for all of the wounds to heal, and we can all move on with the education. This must never happen again.