World AIDS Day

Me, myself and I: Dr Renee West, Development Manager for the GMI Partnership

Dr Renee West is Development Manager for GMI Partnership at Positive East. She is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, has a bit of a shoe obsession and loves both Ellen and Miranda.

Where are you from originally?

The beautiful twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – home of calypso and steel band. Did you know that the steel band was the only instrument invented in the 20th century?

And where do you live now? 

I live with my husband in Bloomsbury. We were previously living in Royston, in Hertfordshire but when I got this job I just had to move back to London. I love living in London. 

What do you like about living in London and why?

As a child growing up in one of the former British colonies, I was taught all things British so I was really excited when I visited and saw everything in real life. I’m fascinated by the history and culture associated with London and enjoy walking down a street and thinking, ‘…gosh people lived here soooooooooooo long ago’. I also love the markets and being able to find lots and lots of bargains.

What is your role at GMI? 

GMI Partnership is a collaboration between three charities: Positive East, Spectra and METRO Charity. We work across London to address the sexual health needs of diverse groups of gay and bisexual men. GMI has been in existence since 2008 and we are looking to ensure that the work we do is in line with what is needed for future sexual health programmes in London. City Bridge Trust is supporting GMI to develop itself and as such I have been hired as the Development Manager. What that means, is trying to understand where GMI has been, and by examining the environment in which it works, where it wants to go in the future and how it will get there. I love my job especially all the people I work with.

Do you think we can get to zero transmission of HIV in gay men? 

I certainly think that we are at a time in the HIV epidemic that has never looked so optimistic for gay men, and the wider population generally, because theoretically once we are sexually active, we are all at risk. We have all the tools – effective treatment, knowledge of U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmissible), rapid testing, PrEP and condoms; so getting to zero transmission is indeed a very possible reality. As with any other country in the world, there are other contextual factors – political will and financial resources – to ensuring that this reality actually happens, and it is these for which we must continue to advocate.

What was the last theatre show you saw, where, and what did you think of it?

Young Frankenstein at the Garrick Theatre. I thought it was a great production and absolutely hilarious.

What is your guilty pleasure and why?

Food, food and more food! All kinds of food! Why is this a guilty pleasure…‘once on the lips, forever on the hips’… need I say more.

Biggest extravagance?

Shoes, shoes and more shoes. Imelda Marcos has nothing on me!

Best gift you’ve ever received and why? 

A two-week trip on a yacht up the Grenadines.

What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?

I’ve had many opportunities to develop my career and therefore consider myself very lucky indeed. From managing a small Caribbean-wide non-governmental organisation; getting my Doctorate in Public Health from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – my thesis was “Sun, sea, sand and sex: an analysis of the factors which influence or hinder the adoption of HIV policies and programmes by the Trinidad and Tobago tourism industry”; and now working with an amazing partnership which does so much to prevent HIV in London… it is all truly inspirational. 

If you could go back in time which year would you choose and why? 

I would go back to when both my paternal and maternal grandparents were alive. I wish I knew them better. I know that they would have had some very interesting stories plus I’m sure that their wisdom would have proved useful – even if I didn’t really listen to it at the time.

What’s the best party you’ve ever been to and what made it so good?

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago – Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday every year. It’s where Notting Hill Carnival originated. On these days you get to ‘jump up’ (dance) in the street, in costume, to music blasting from big trucks having the time of your life! I play every year that I’m in Trinidad… I don’t think that I could be in the country and not play!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Four things which can never come back – the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.

Who is your LGBT+ hero and why?

Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen is so open and true. And has such a generous spirit. I truly admire her.

Who are the most entertaining people you follow on social media and why? 

Trevor Noah and Miranda Hart. Trevor is politically and socially ‘on point’. I love his style and wit. He makes me laugh out loud…it’s embarrassing! I’ve watched Miranda’s TV series three times within the last year. Her slapstick comedy had me in stitches every time. Such fun!

Where in the world would you like to visit before you die and why? 

Trinbagonians (people from Trinidad and Tobago) are some of the most ethnically diverse people in the world… and yes, we live together in harmony (most of the time). It is for this reason I wish to visit all the countries from where my ancestors have come from – India, China, Africa, France and Scotland. I’m sure there are more but those are the ones I know about. Two down; three to go.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

Live in the moment… don’t worry about what others think… your opinion is the only important one.

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