NI abortion, why the wait?

After a tiring road of being intimidated, hoping and pushing for reproductive equality, campaigners in Northern Ireland were able to breathe a sigh of relief as Westminster overwhelmingly voted in favour of extending the abortion, and marriage equality, act to Northern Ireland yet there is one final hurdle. In order for equality to come into line with the rest of the island of Ireland and mainland UK Stormont must remain dysfunctional until at least October 21st, so why the wait?

One reason could be that Westminster does not want or need the headache of it all right now after just changing PM during turbulent times due to Brexit.

Between 1970 to date, in terms of the Northern Ireland “troubles” conflict Westminster oversaw the swift implementation of several laws, some of which have been questioned regarding a violation of human rights so why wait 16 weeks after voting in the chamber to implement laws that would counteract a violation of human rights?

Simply put we will never know for sure however either way the biggest winners are Westminster because they will end up with a functional Stormont or the ability to say we created all this equality, even though people have advocated they do so for decades.

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It’s happening

So often in life we like to say I told you so or I was right however this is not one of those occasions. Some time ago Positive Moving On spoke of the dismantling of our NHS and the probability of would be sold off to a private company, enter Donald Trump.

The public were fearful of his visit and that fear was justified given his interest in the US buying up the health service post-Brexit. Make no mistake, the world renowned and envied health system the UK once had is gone forever, what kind of new shape that takes depends on how far we let this go on.

Get writing to your local MP, start a petition and get creative because when it’s gone, it’s gone, we will never have the health care we are used to and will quickly be pushed into an American model where the rich live and the poor die with society praying for the days of a postcode lottery.

Transgender, the new AIDS in the bathroom crisis?

From highway closures due to minute particles of blood from HIV positive people being present after am accident to travel bans and people with HIV being unwelcome to associate in general society, including bathrooms where the ever persistent misconception that HIV can be passed through a toilet seat existed/s the, 80s of all eras wrote a dark chapter of undue prejudice, fear and hate in the book of life.

Fast forward to 2019 and the same chapter is being rewritten with another community being at it’s focus, the transgender community. The startling similarities have become more obvious as time goes by, the fear of using the same bathrooms, the outcasting from society, the hate crimes including violent attacks and intimidation which begs the question, did society really learn from where it went so wrong almost forty years ago?

Another example would be the recent outbreaks of Ebola, hysteria followed as did travel bans and outcasting even if people who had simply visited places like Sierra Leone.

Some might call it justified, others fear of the unknown, but what it really comes down to is plain old fashioned bigotry.

Will society ever learn? Only time will tell….

The man who used HIV as a weapon

This was quite a hard documentary to watch, from a non personal stance it was heart breaking to see what these men were put through,  from a personal stance as someone who was diagnosed with HIV after a person I believed to be a friend failed to tell me he had a detectable viral load it became even harder.

My thoughts on the perpetrator are very little, so little in fact I refuse to comment on him further, instead I will focus my attention to the survivors of his crimes. Each one has shown courage beyond what anyone could imagine in the face of a challenge beyond what anyone could comprehend. We must applaud their coming coming forward while encouraging others in the same position to do so.

Having said that there is one thing I would like to clarify, something one of the survivors said bothered me it was that if he hadnt used a condom he would have said this was okay and pretty much his fault, wherher you choose to use a condom, Prep, PEP or not, nobody deserves a diagnosis like HIV and it’s never anyone’s fault, it’s a sad fact in life that it and other chronic illnesses exist.

HIV diagnoses in Ireland

The news emerging out of Ireland this week regarding diagnoses rates surpassing that of the 80s and 90s comes shockingly, especially as we are in the era of U=U.

We could speculate several reasons for this but without further study of demographics it would be just that, speculation instead we would like to put forward a couple of solutions, the first being PrEP.

If ever there was evidence of the need for a national roll out of the HIV prevention pill this is it. It also must be made available for free, just like most other contraception mechanisms are because the ongoing cost, however little brings an inequality and an injustice to those who at times can barely afford to put food in their cupboards.

The other suggestion is better access to free rapid HIV testing, particularly outside an urban setting along with physicians following the latest guidelines to initiate treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis. Clearly people are either unaware of their status or still have a detectable viral load when the opportunity for them to be undetectable exists, this benefits service users from a psychological perspective and wider society from the perspective that being undetectable makes it impossible for anyone to pass on HIV.

If we are to see a downward trend in these rates we must act now using the suggestions given in this blog or even something better otherwise things can always get worse.

New UequalsU campaign

Positive Moving On’s new UequalsU campaign has begun. We have flyers and posters galore so if you run a business in Northern Ireland or the ROI just get in touch and we will pop them in the post. With this new campaign has came time for reflection.

UequalsU was a message that was just beginning to grow when joined up to the PAC Consensus, since then, thanks to the guidance of amazing people like Bruce Richman it has now become an international movement, if anything made this clear it was at the IAC 2018 which took place in at RUI in Amsterdam. An amazing gathering that culminated in one clear message, people living with HIV who are on effective treatment with an undetectable viral load for six months or more cannot transmit the virus through sexual intercourse.

This scientific fact was backed up by yet another study when the results of PARTNER 2 were announced, which as you will probably have guessed showed zero transmissions (for more info see ibase http://i-base.info/partner-study/) .

Altogether the conference was a real celebration of UequalsU and I hope the vivid colours and simple tone of the new campaign mirrors this.

PrEP, halfway there…

After a long and tedious battle a Belfast HIV clinic are to offer PrEP, while great news for those in need and those of us who have campaigned tirelessly for it, there is still work to be do.

The Belfast clinic is not accessible to all due to transport, this can at best lead to missed appointments, we also have to include voices of the communities more, especially the transgender community, if not then the full potential of PrEP will fail.

For so many years I had a great feeling that we were in a new era, where we could prevent this dangerous virus but I could not rejoice, now I can but only a little because we now need to get it to the people, including those in developing countries, who need it.

The battle is only half over, there is still much work to do, but for now, well done to all.

Stagnant water

Starting Positive Moving On became a lifetime commitment for me, I knew it would be hard, that I would have to make sacrifices or hard decisions to ensure its survival along with the work it hoped to achieve.

Being based in Northern Ireland has had its extra challenges from the beginning giving the religiously dominated society and politics that still exist here yet it was manageable, however since the collapse of Stormont in January 2017 and the inevitability of, at the very least, an uneasy Brexit Positive Moving On’ current and future sustainability has been jeopardised due to political lies, ineptitude and a failure to function. Thankfully PMO has options, one of them being to fold into LWS Limited.

This is a limited company also run by Andrew with directors and shareholders agreeing to take on the social as well as responsibilities of Positive Moving On with the aim of becoming a CIC itself, this may lead to a move South of the border however it will not detour from the groubdbreaking work achieved in Northern Ireland so far, in fact it will only amplify our presence and persistence.

We invite all members of the HIV community to approach us through http://www.positivemovingon.com with their thoughts, hopes or even concerns by this move.

Thinking of you all, keep it real with the L-O-V-E

Andrew xx

Tolerance is a virtue

A bit shook up after my interaction with a very angry man last night who began by calling me a PrEP slapper because I was promoting its use and unclean (among other things) when told during the ensuing conversation that I have HIV, well I conversed he shouted abuse.

There are many incidents of prejudice in this job but the odd time, like last night, an individual tests my nerve because their anger is so extreme and like in this case comes out of nowhere because I have not interacted with the person first, they have came at me simply through observing what I’m doing.

On the few occasions an individual has been that aggressive I have felt as vulnerable as this it has led me to question for a moment if I have the nerve for it all anymore, for a moment, then I think fuck them. If everyone bowed down to those types of bullies society would get nowhere, and also it might sound strange given the subject matter along with how I got here but I love what I do.

Having explained all this the message I want to get out is not one of discrimination or stigma but one of tolerance.

I am a gay, Republic of Ireland born Catholic who historically for that reason alone would most likely have an issue with a loyalist politician, however with the DUP currently withholding marriage equality a lot of people would say I should be against any such politician, lock heads with them and have had quite a few fellow LGBT members turn their nose up at me since a picture was uploaded to social media of me and Paula Bradley, a DUP MLA, having coffee.

Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Paula through the course of my HIV work. After this I was invited to Stormont where we had that coffee and spoke about the rise in diagnoses here in addition to our common social goals.

Even though it angers me to feel like a second class citizen by Steven and I being forced to have a civil ceremony, not the recognition of marriage we deserve, putting aside different views and letting go of this anger to work for a common goal was/is one of the most freeing feelings I have ever had.

I left Stormont that day and on the steps gave Paula a hug,

arriving home I said to Steven, what a shame there was no picture of that moment because it will probably be the most surreal and educational of my life, here are two people who have every reason to lock heads because of what some might call indifferences but instead work together and I now get the warmest hug each time I see her (experiences that have left me with nothing but respect as well as admiration for Paula).

If you don’t like PrEP don’t use it, if you have concerns about the side effects, who should pay for it etc then open a constructive dialogue.

If you want to view me as unclean because I have HIV I will give you the facts in hope of educating you but if fear still blinds you and your opinion on these or any other matters remains different to mine talk to me and let’s work together but there is no need to shout me down with a torrent of abuse like a common bully.

Think differently and help the world progress, so long as your being tolerant to other people’s way of thinking too.

From segregation to integration, the road ahead…

By Andrew Goyvaerts

@PMOCICAndrew

From gay bars to peace walls, flag polls and a virtually nonexistent border, for most of life I have witnessed and studied from a social science perspective, segregation, a topic that some are becoming desensitised to in the world we live in today. During my education it focused on one particular area and the people who bombed, shot and tortured stranger, friend, family and neighbour alike with impunity because the “target” either came from “the other side” or was claimed to be a “tout” however those same men and women who terrified Northern Ireland for decades went home, put their children to bed, perhaps with a story or song, cooked dinner, all things their victims along with some survivors could no longer do. Human instinct leads us to conjure pictures of a monstrous life when we see the face of someone who has committed such atrocities because we can be so unwilling to admit that their lives are very much like our own, they have a mother, father, siblings, maybe even an elderly lady who they helped around the home. The headlines called them monsters, terrorists and there were calls for capital punishment to be reintroduced but within their own communities to many these “comrades” were considered local hero’s who could be relied on not just for protection but help with day to day issues.

My personal experience of Northern Ireland comes from summers and holidays spent with my grandmother along with our many relatives in Limavady County London/Derry during my early childhood and nearly 15 years living on/off in Belfast.

In the early nineties peace was in the air and even as a young child I could feel an energy of change, exactly what that change was I didn’t understand but as I found out when my uncle was passing nannies house on the Main Street, it didn’t mean I could stick my head out the window to sing the Irish National anthem were taught in school the week before. It also meant that my Protestant friend across the road and I still experienced looks of dumb-foundry when we played outside the backyard. In an odd way I understood how they were feeling and returned with my own look of dumb-foundry at the barriers that held everyone back so much.

More than twenty years after the Good Friday agreement in NI, integration can still be a touchy subject with some but it is getting there, beautiful community gardens have sprung up that are cared to and respected by all, schools are leading the way with what can be described as a no nonsense approach to integrating education and although peace walls continue to be erected, common goals such as social stability in the face of austerity and growing respect as well as trust between different communities, a new NI, Stormont aside, becomes more and more visible to the naked eye.

Some will wonder what all this has to do with HIV or even the Social Sector, it comes down to the simple interlink of humankind. Whether you wake up as CEO of a multi million/billion pound company or an unemployed person trying to scrape by on the pittance they say is one of the best social care systems, we all wake up by opening our eyes, we will all sit on a toilet at some point in the day and a moment will come for us all when the day begins but we can no longer open our eyes.

Just like in Northern Ireland barriers have been built up within the social, and private sector, that could possibly be hindering the growth of our communities and members (private sector).

Getting to this point of integration in NI has taken reflection, honesty, courage and understanding, all things we should take a moment to do as we move into uncharted territory, whether your country is dealing with a rogue president, Brexit, austerity or civil unrest, we are all entering or have entered the unknown and need each other more than ever. No longer should HIV stand in one corner, cancer in another and the eco system across the way because just like us, as humans, they all interlink. Reduce HIV, Cancer or Diabetes and we also reduce emissions through the reduction of producing and transportation of medicines along with medical equipment so it stands to reason that we should say hello to our interlinking sectors and work closely together so we can stand stronger as we move forward.

Of course this is all the opinion of one person and needs to become an open dialogue but it cannot become survival of the fittest, if it does humanity has failed.