José Mejía is the HIV Peer Support Manager at Metro health, community and youth service. He is from Colombia, has partied in the Amazon rainforest, and loves to indulge in a Netflix binge.
Where are you from originally?
Colombia, not Columbia.
And where do you live now?
London! Hackney, with my flatmates and a lot of plants.
What do you love about London?
I love London’s cultural mash up. I love its diversity. I love that there is a ‘new thing’ to do all the time.
What was the first gay venue you visited?
I was like 16 or 17, trying to get a glimpse of what a gay bar in Colombia looked like, and I loved it! I was with some friends and the guy that then became my first boyfriend – the place was packed. It wasn’t a fancy place, it didn’t have the best sound, but everyone was happy and having fun. This sounds a bit cliché but I felt free and without worries. I was thrilled and in awe. The nicest thing about some of the gay venues in Colombia is that they mix traditional Latin music (salsa, merengue, reggaeton) with pop and pop divas’ songs in English. It sounds awful I know, and maybe it is, but I think it’s great; it makes the party vivid and diverse and adds a comedic dimension. The same happens with drinks, they mix fancy cocktails from all over the world with shots of our national spirit, aguardiente.
What is your role at Metro?
I’m Metro’s HIV Peer Support Manager. Along with a lovely team of staff and volunteers we provide prevention services for people at risk of acquiring HIV and support services for people living with HIV. We design and deliver one-to-one and group activities, meetings and sessions that improve the wellbeing of people living with or affected by HIV, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or immigration status. We provide support in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish, and work mainly with men who have sex with men (MSM) and black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) groups in London and the Southeast.
What was the last theatre show you saw, where, and what did you think of it?
The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and His Narcissistic Mother at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s one of the nicest shows I’ve seen in a very long time. It was funny and moving. It was heart-warming and inspirational, in an easy way. I couldn’t stop crying. It made me think a lot of my relationship with my lovely mom.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Let’s say I try to avoid feeling guilt from my pleasures. But binge watching shows on Netflix does make me feel guilty sometimes.
Being quiet in a loud world.
Best gift you’ve ever received?
The love of my mom, dad and sister through trials and tribulations.
What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?
I’m very proud of the work we do at Metro and it is a highlight in my career. We support people through complicated times, we demand sexual and reproductive health as a human right and we advocate for those being left behind because of the intersectionalities of their lives. I mix hands-on frontline work with more management tasks, which I really enjoy.
If you could go back in time which year would you choose and why?
I would go back to 2008 when I was diagnosed with HIV. I would tell myself: “Don’t take too long getting to terms with your diagnosis. Everything will be brighter when you do.”
What’s the best party you’ve ever been to and what made it so good?
A party in the Amazon rainforest! I was there with a group of practitioners from all around the world doing sustainability work with local communities. We had an end of project party as a way for us to thank the community that hosted us and to share achievements. We danced, drank and laughed under the stars. We had music from all over the world, a bonfire and a few tears as well.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Don’t play deaf with your gut feeling.”
Who is your LGBT+ hero and why?
There are a lots of people doing heroic work in the LGBT+ scene, but I’ll have to say my hero is Peter Tatchell.
Who are the most entertaining people you follow on social media and why?
The journalist Jon Lee Anderson (@jonleeanderson), climate change specialist David Kaimowitz (@DKaimowitz), Executive Director of NAM Aidsmap Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) and Years & Years singer Olly Alexander (@alexander_olly).
Where in the world would you like to visit before you die?
Tough one. So many places. I think the Pacific Islands. And some parts of Colombia that I’ve never been to.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
That life is too short so I don’t have to waste time doing things that make me unhappy. That love is the answer. That it always gets better.
You can find out more about Metro at metrocharity.org.uk