Fighting for the people who can’t be heard
Aaron talks about his sexual health work for Yorkshire MESMAC, including outreach with Traveller communities, and the importance of recognizing that not everyone can be out and proud.
TRANSCRIPTAARON: Erm, and I guess another, you know, thing that I’ve experienced… had at MESMAC is um, I guess he’s a sad story but I still want to kind of talk about him because I think they’re important. One time I was visited by a young, um er, Travelling, someone from a Travelling community, erm, a young man, he came for a HIV test. Erm it seems that he was in the early stages of just kind of… coming… or he’d been seeing male partners and his, his female partner had found out and just things were just very, very chaotic in his life it seemed very much. But he came in, spoke relatively openly about it with me and just kind of, did an HIV test and we were able to kind of support him through that.
Erm, and [makes unclear noise] he came back a few times over the coming months erm, you know, really, really expressing a lot of anger about the situation that he was in, not really accepting that he was attracted to a male partner you know who was really, really supportive of him but kind of understanding, the main issue was with the fact that the partner was HIV+, um, he didn’t understand what that was and he was really angry and thought that he would be infected with HIV by being with this person and I was able to do a bit of work over the repeated times that I saw him to kind of address this stigma, got on top of the stigma of kind of being from a kind of Travelling community, you know, this was very, very difficult stuff to achieve.
Erm, and, you know, one day he came in and he came to test and his attitude had completely changed, like he… came to me and he said he’d really taken on board all the messages that I’d said about undetectable viral loads and erm, you know, he’d seen my colleague who had again hammered home those messages and he came in and he’d done a test and he was just like ‘Well’, he said to me and I remember, you know, ‘I’m with my partner who’s got HIV but he’s undetectable, you know, so he’s the safest person I could be with really’ and I was thinking ‘wow’, this is, you know, a message that um, has been taken on by someone from such a community where there is such stigma that he’s kind of finally understood that.
Erm, and… er, yeah, I went, well I left that kind of message, test, thinking you know that’s a really good success story, he’s erm, you know, taken on board all these messages, he seems to be a bit happier in his identity and things, erm, and then, unfortunately a few months later his partner contacted me and said that he, erm, he was calling because the person that I’d been seeing had passed away. He had erm, unfortunately, had a big run in with his family and as a result of it, the stigma, he just felt like he couldn’t be in his… erm… he just couldn’t exist like, like there was no place for him in the world to exist as a gay man within his community and unfortunately he, he took his own life and his partner kind of came seeking support, like, what, what do I do? Any of it.
Yeah [takes deep breath] you know, being in that situation and trying to kind of console… you know, it just tore me back down, I guess, you know made me realise that I thought he’d come so far, you know and, and, he presented to me in a certain way, like, you know I felt confident for him in the future and just everything kind of made me again realise that, you know, there are such levels of stigma within certain communities, you know, people have to prepare for the ups and downs of that as well. Erm, you won’t always get that feeling of like acceptance and being proud of who you are and again I kind of resonated with that, with the kind of ups and downs that I’d have had but it just really struck me that, that he felt so profoundly about that being the only way out. Erm, and these are people, you know, this is, a few years ago in Leeds, erm in West Yorkshire who unfortunately I feel their voices will never be heard. Erm, and I’m sure they will be not isolated incidents, you know, it will continue, erm, in some ways, you know, it’s just really, really made me so sure that I need to make sure that we are fighting for the people who can’t be heard.
AARON: We’re fighting for the people that, erm, aren’t able to be open, you know, aren’t able to feel proud of their identities. Erm… you know, it’s given me this absolute resolution to absolutely make sure that I am respectful and I, I can… get people to be open and, and speak about when things are kind of not sort of working out for them. But, you know, I just wanted to share that, I think as some of the profound things this is what it’s like to kind of work within these organisations in Leeds.
It is… there are lots and lots of people who are kind of worried and get on OK and then there’s the other side, where there’s extremely marginalised people, well you know, as well as working with ReachOUT, you know, I’ve gone and taken a lot of young trans people to the housing office and argued to get them emergency accommodation because they’ve been chucked out, we, we’ve helped support a lot of the communities to self-organise because they’ve needed to, erm, because there isn’t an option because, you know, people it, it is a matter of life and death for a lot of people, erm, and you know… I, I really want the community as a whole to kind of be aware of this and, and take that, their fight forward. If, you know, things are OK for you, use that to support those for whom it is not OK for. You know, you can, help people just by, kind of being defiant, and, and, proud to be queer and set an example but you also kind of need to think about ways in which, never forget that there are other people who just don’t have that privilege.