Student societies in the University of Manchester recently commemorated World AIDS Day on Friday, the 1st of December, a day to not only remember those we have tragically lost to the AIDS pandemic but to also solemnly dedicate ourselves to preventing the spread of HIV.
The Mancunion talked to the Communications Officer, Bridie Forrester, and the Diversity Inclusion Officer, Austin Tuck, from the university’s LGBTQ+ Society about some of the initiatives they were undertaking on the day.
The LGBTQ+ Society cooperated with the LGBT Foundation to offer students HIV screenings in the Students’ Union building, distribute free safe-sex materials in the lobby, and also sold red ribbons as part of a fundraising effort for George House Trust, an organisation that provides support structures for those diagnosed and living with HIV.
Students could head up to the top floor of the Students’ Union building to see a certified medical officer and get information on their status within an hour of getting pricked on their finger. Austin Tuck said that it was particularly important for the LGBTQ+ Society to undertake these efforts to “allow people to know their status and give them the resources and capacity [to] fight the stigma that has been historically created over time that has made [AIDS] a ‘gay’ disease”.
Bridie Forrester hoped that by bringing facilities closer to people and by providing a stigma-free space, the intimidation of going to a clinic would be reduced: “One of the loveliest things is that having it somewhere here in the SU– it’s a lot more homely, you pass by it every day—going to a specialized clinic is just a lot more scary.”
Bridie also expressed hope that by bringing HIV screenings closer to the everyday environment of the student community, the LGBTQ+ Society could help eliminate the cognitive distance that many people have created to knowing their own status. “It’s a bit like looking at your bank account. If you know that it might be bad, you just don’t want to look at it, but that just makes things worse!”
The LGBTQ+ Society believed that it was important that World AIDS Day “turns into a conversation on how to be safe”, and that the dialogue was not only accessible but was also correct and informed, with people with the facts and expertise. Bridie Forrester expressed regret that sexual education still remains a “straight, cis-focused field where the emphasis on using condoms is just to prevent pregnancy” and their significance in preventing STIs is not highlighted.
Austin Tuck, an exchange student, shared some of their experience with sexual education in the US, where many states still practice abstinence-only education. The harmful mentality around sexual activity in general “just adds to the stigma of being HIV-positive,” they expressed.
Austin explained that “even though today is a somber day for remembrance for those who have passed because of HIV, it’s important that we don’t be passive about that, and we should use that to go forward.”
Due to a lack of public awareness, Austin Tuck says that many often don’t know that due to medical advances, “living with HIV isn’t a death sentence… As long as you know your status early, you can have a very healthy sex life as long as you take the right precautions.”
Bridie was optimistic that a sex-healthy society could mean more people would be safe, sharing with The Mancunion that many testing centers see new couples being tested together as the start of their relationship.
Bridie rounded up with: “Don’t worry about it so much! Just [get tested]!”