Sophie: “You need to remember that you are not alone”

Thank you for taking the time to allow us to interview you today Sophie. Would you mind introducing yourself to our readers please? Where are you based and what is it that you do?

Thank you for the opportunity to get involved! I’m 21 years old and orginally from Kent, but living Salford now. I’m a full time student at the University of Salford studying Broadcast Journalism, as well as working at the fabulous VIA on Canal Street. I also do some promotional work for Filthy Gorgeous at KIKI on a Tuesday night, so I’m amazing you managed to find the time to catch me for a chat!

How are you finding working in the village for such a reputable venue?

I’ve been at VIA for about 6 months now and I absolutely love it! I’ve just handed in my notice at my retail job that I’ve had for four and a half years so I can work full time there. It’s such an amazing venue with lovely staff and a variety of drag acts each week. I’d definitely recommend people to pop in for a drink, watch a show or check out our new menu because not only is there always something different there, but you’ll get to see me too!

What was it that initially inspired you to go in to journalism?

Believe it or not I studied for all my GCSE’s with the ‘dream’ of being a dentist! I think I changed routes because I love the fast paced energy of media and how no two days are ever the same! I’ve also loved researching things and digging around for the truth, so it made sense for me to change career goals. Plus you can never really run out of stories, especially working and practically living on Canal Street, there’s always some sort of drama happening. 

As an LGBT youth/village regular, I have to ask, what would you say our LGBT youth’s attitude’s are like currently in Manchester regarding HIV in 2017? Would you say more education is required? To be a little more specific, do you often hear LGBT youth discuss HIV within their social circles?

I agree that more could definitely be done to change LGBT attitudes around HIV especially regarding young. I love that Grindr now has HIV options such as HIV status and last HIV test because it gets people tallking about such a stigmatised issue and also prompts them to get tested. I think that young people are scared to talk about it because of a lack of understanding and education when they were growing up. However, I do believe that Manchester does a lot as a city to prompt not only young people, but everyone, to get tested and educated.

Sophie attending Manchester vigil to stand in solidarity with Orlando victims

I don’t want to patronise you as you may have heard of this, you may have not – what I would like to ask you about is PrEP. Based on multiple studies PrEP, if taken daily it can protect you from contracting HIV between 92%-99% (based on multiple studies) What are your general thoughts about PrEP? There is no right or wrong answer here…

As a lesbian if you’d have asked me about 6 months ago what PEP or PrEP were I probably would have been clueless. I think working and being a village regular I’ve learnt a lot more about LGBT issues I had little to no knowledge about. My general thoughts surrounding PrEP are that I wish more people knew about it or understood what exactly it is. In my opinion, a lot of people confuse PrEP with HIV treatments. PrEP is in fact taken to help prevent HIV and much like birth control helps to keep you safe and protected. Although PrEP is not yet available to everyone on the NHS, I’m glad that some form of progress is being made to implement a trial for those at high risk.

A while back we contacted a gentleman called Bruce Richman, an HIV-activist from the states and he is currently changing the world bit by bit by promoting his message #UequalsU. In other words Undetectable=Untransmittible. In short, this basically means that those currently living with HIV that now have an undetectable viral load by adhering to their medication cannot pass on HIV to others sexually. By using this message more and more, do you think we can have an impact on LGBT youth in terms of educating them about HIV going forward?

I’d not actually heard about the gentleman himself, but I’ve definitely heard the phrase a lot more. After doing a bit more research into him I think the work he is doing is amazing! It is important that people do understand that being undetectable does mean they are untransmittable. People often use the outdated phrase “are you clean” when asking about HIV. The correct way of saying this is in fact “what is your status?” and its important that we educate people of the correct language to use when discussing HIV.

We always without fail ask in every single interview if you would have any words of encouragement for the newly diagnosed?

I feel it gets said time and time again but you are still you no matter what! If you’re single, you’ll still find love and romance and still have healthy relationships, being HIV positive doesn’t change that. You need to remember that you are not alone and your friends, family, other newly diagnosed and of course doctors and charities such as DESTIGMATIZE and George House Trust are here to support you. You don’t have to face this alone, but you also don’t have to explain or justify yourself to others or convince them of anything. You have an always will be you, and you are so much more than a diagnosis. 

Do you have any feedback for us or constructive criticism on how we can tackle HIV stigma more within our community? We want to be sure we’re doing everything within our means.

I think HIV stigma comes from a lack of understanding and that definitely needs tackling too. When I first came out as gay someone said to me I needed to be careful when hanging around gay people because I was making myself more open to “catching AIDS from them”. It’s this lack of education that leads people to misunderstand an issue or distribute false information. Our language is also a massive problem as you can probably tell from the phrase I was told above. We need to be careful of the words we use and learn more about the correct terms for these issues. Essentially, the more we educate people on an issue the less likely they are to have a negative view or a stigma towards it.

Finally Sophie, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we wrap this up?

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today! If anyone ever feels they need a non-judgmental ear to chat/rant or even just listen to them I’m always available! Just remember you are not alone and there’s always someone here to listen.

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

We are also working in collaboration with ‘But I Like It’ a local photography company who are a major contributor to our campaign. For those in the Greater Manchester/West Yorks area, you will be eligible for a free photoshoot with our good friend Johann who will be happy to give you a free photoshoot for those wishing to take part in our campaign.

If you’d like to check out ‘But I Like It’ tweet them here or visit Johann’s website here