Rylan: “You will make it through this, you are stronger than you know”

Rylan, we’ve known each other a good amount of years but for our readers would you mind introducing yourself and letting our readers know what you’re about?

I’m a manchester-based creative, and ‘queer spokesperson’ is a shorthand way of putting it. I function as a mouthpiece for the community, by hosting The Gay Agenda radio show and That’s Pride TV Show.

I’ve been at it for three years, and I see no sign of stopping any time soon, there is still so much to fight for, for the worldwide LGBT+ community

You are indeed! I wish there was a way I could describe how fun you are to be around when we get together and do these shows, I’ve always viewed you as an ‘asset’ to our community and a great role model for our LGBT youth to look up to. Would you like to remind our readers when and where they can catch your show?

Oh you’re a charmer. The Gay Agenda broadcasts live from 9pm every Thursday evening on Fab Radio Internation (which i hear is the most listened-to online radio station in europe). Or people can find the podcasts of the shows on ITunes and click subscribe to have them downloaded as soon as new episodes are ready.

That’s Pride broadcasts currently on a Monday evening at 7.30pm on That’s Manchester, the local tv station here on freeview 7.

The youtube playlist for That’s Pride and the most recent Gay Agenda shows can be found online www.thegayagenda.co.uk

I wasn’t even aware we could download the show via iTunes, I’m glad I asked! 

Rylan, I’ve invited you to speak with us today about HIV stigma. I’m not aware of how much you know about HIV or HIV stigma but that doesn’t matter, we want to gather everybody’s opinions on how they view HIV in 2016. Can I ask what are your general thoughts are on HIV treatment today in comparison to what HIV treatment was 30 years ago?

I have to be honest and say I don’t know a great deal about the day-to-day intricacies of living with HIV, or the treatments. I have what I’d call a general understanding. 30 years ago there wasn’t a treatment for it. A HIV diagnosis was very much a death sentence. Campaigners managed to secure the release of un-tested drugs, I believe, and helped to distribute them to those in need of them. ACT UP was the group responsible for this if memory serves. The community had to take matters into its own hands, as the various governments in the UK & US very much turned a blind eye.

The idea of spreading information about safe sex and contraception originated in the queer community from the struggle to fight HIV and AIDS. The ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men originated in this time; a knee-jerk reaction. A hangover which still lingers today.
HIV has not been a death sentence for a long time. Friends of mine live with it, and it is no longer a huge part of their lives.

Now prep has arrived, it has once again dragged HIV into the ‘mainstream’ spotlight.

Yes I remember discussing this with you a number of weeks ago! PrEP is also something I would love to discuss with you, what are you general thoughts on PrEP? Do you have any concerns and would you recommend it to any of your friends?

I would very much recommend people go on PrEP! And not just members of our community. Anyone who finds themselves in an ‘at risk’ place in their lives should have it available to them. Sex workers, those on the poverty line, and areas where injected drug use occurs.

People must remember though that it is not a cue-all. It is merely another weapon in your arsanel (sp?) against sexually transmitted nasties. Condoms should be common practice, as PrEP is only designed to help fight off HIV. There’s a lot out there that equally, you would not want to acquire.

Lots of negative media attention seems to have been aimed towards PrEP as ‘too expensive’ and as ‘diverting funds from cancer patients’ which is all bollocks. The cost of supplying PrEP us much less than the cost of providing HIV treatment, so by investing in PrEP now the NHS will be reducing the future cost of HIV treatment.

Absolutely, I completely agree with that statement especially now I hear that Hep C is now on the rise, I believe that PrEP and balloons are the way forward! 

Unfortunately the NHS are still playing ball with national HIV charities and the high courts. However, on a lighter note, their decision to not have the ‘responsibility’ to fund PrEP have now been overturned twice by the high court and I personally believe that it is only a matter of time before the UK finally come to their senses.

Can I ask have you heard about what the term ‘undetectable’ means? If so, do you think enough people are aware of this to help reduce HIV stigma?

As I understand it, ‘undetectable’ is a point at which the amount of the HIV virus in a person’s system no longer registers on tests. But no, I do not think there is enough awareness on this small but vital point.

Unless you are exposed to the information, or to people within our community who have HIV, you are never going to come across this. It is still very much ‘outside the fish bowl’, especially for the straight world. The recent bad press proves this. There is still an element of that old fear and disgust lingering around HIV.

Yes, I agree. I personally believe it is probably the most vital piece of information that people need to be aware of which could play a key-role in eliminating HIV stigma. 

We created this project not only to educate people but also to give the newly diagnosed a place where they can feel hopeful about their new medical condition. If one of your friends were diagnosed with HIV, would you have any reassuring words for them? If so, what would you say?

Finding the right words to say for someone in distress I have always found tricky. I’m always a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to bend. I’m a great listener, and comforting arm for a reasuring hug. I would have to say, ‘it may seem like the floor has fallen out of the world, and you’re not sure how to move forward, but that will pass. There are people you don’t know standing at your side. There are generations standing before you, and a rainbow full of people reaching out to hold your hand. We’re here for you, to help you through this. You will make it through this, you are stronger than you know.’ Or, ‘let me get you a pint’, depending on the situation.

What a lovely message! I’m sure any newly diagnosed readers will find comfort in those beautiful words. As you know we are launching on World AIDS Day, do you have any advice for us going forward?

The best advice I have is what I have always told myself; Never stop.

So long as you are needed, keep fighting. In the future there may be a day when equality prevails, stigma has gone and utopia is reached. But until then we cannot become complacent. Keep the placards raised, keep the flag flying, keep the pressure on and visibility high.

Thank you for those encouraging words Rylan, we’ll do everything we can. Do you have anything else you’d like to say before we wrap this up?

The only thing I would like to add, as we move forward into what I feel is a very politically uncertain time, is that we are stronger together. In the face of homo/trans/biphobia silence is complicity. Be proud, and make it known. Call people out on their bigotry and racism if you feel you are able. If we do not, I fear that those who hate us will feel empowered. We must stand up for ourselves and for the community that we are a part of, for better or worse.

If you want to see more of Rylan check him out here!

Want to take part in our #STIGMAWARRIOR campaign? Have your say on HIV stigma and get in touch: stigmawarrior@destigmatizehiv.com