Just as drag is a big part of LGBT+ community life, unfortunately so is HIV, with 2 in 3 of all new HIV diagnoses being amongst gay and bisexual men. That’s why Aaron and Vicki are two of the new faces of National HIV Testing Week, to help tackle these rates and encourage people to test.
By day, Aaron lives on a canal barge out in the countryside with his dog Georgia. By night, he’s Vicki Vivacious, the queen of drag, a star in Soho who is famously known for her unforgettable audition on Britain’s Got Talent.
As well as that, Aaron wants to use his platform to help encourage others to be empowered to test for HIV, and to help dispel the myths that surround both testing and HIV itself.
“My sex education at school was pretty rubbish, it didn’t include anything about HIV or LGBT+ sex or relationships,” says Vicki, who grew up in rural Cornwall. “I didn’t really know much about the virus at all. I’d never even met someone who was HIV positive until I moved to London. Now I have friends living with HIV and I ask them loads and loads of questions – I want to know everything, from medication to stigma. Now I know more and want to pass on the knowledge.”
“The stigma really shocks me,” says Vicki, who’s been a performer for 10 years. “People actually say things like ‘I wouldn’t date someone with HIV’ and ‘people with HIV are promiscuous.’ This is unacceptable, and most of the time it’s from people behind a screen on dating apps.”
“It really upsets me to think that my friends who have HIV get this sort of stigma pretty much daily. We’ve made huge leaps forward medically, but there is still this ugly side of people that comes out when you talk about HIV.”
“Most of the time this is because they simply don’t know what HIV is like today. You can’t blame them, because I’m still learning, but we need to educate and create awareness – just as the National HIV Testing Week campaign is doing.”
“I want to be a part of this campaign to help spread awareness and educate people. I work on the scene, and so I hope having people in the campaign that people know and can relate to sends them a message and gets them testing.”
The week enables groups across England to work together to increase testing and combat stigma within their communities.
“I recently learnt what undetectable means – that people on effective HIV medication have an undetectable amount of virus in their blood meaning they can’t pass it on. This means that people with HIV can have HIV negative babies and that testing isn’t scary, because if you get a positive diagnosis you can live well and not pass it on to anyone else. This is amazing, but not enough people know it.”
“My friends and family love that I am getting involved with the testing week campaign – it’s a week that most of the LGBT+ community know and recognise, so I’m really keen to help out and make it even bigger and better this year!”
Pictures by Thomas Knights
You can find out more about National HIV Testing Week, which runs from 18 – 24 November, and order a free postal test kit by visiting startswithme.org.uk
National HIV Testing Week is co-ordinated by Terrence Higgins Trust as part of HIV Prevention England (HPE) with the support and participation of hundreds of clinics and organisations across England.