Cover boy Austin Armacost, popularly known for his time in the Big Brother house and his bromance with fellow housemate James, is lending us his finger for National HIV Testing Week which runs from Saturday 16th to Friday 22nd November.
‘I want to make sure I am doing my part to help erase HIV stigma, and encourage people to get tested within my community. As, sadly, gay and bisexual men are still one of the hardest-hit communities for HIV,’ says Austin.
Gay and bi men are still the group most affected – accounting for half of new diagnoses in 2018. Also, a third of gay men diagnosed last year were diagnosed late, which is after they should’ve already started treatment. So despite the progress that’s been made, now’s not the time for complacency. We need to get more gay men testing sooner, because the earlier you’re diagnosed, the better it is for your health.
‘What Gareth Thomas and Jonathan Van Jess did was amazing in not only normalising HIV but educating everyone on the realities of living with HIV in 2019. I think it’s really important to see popular figures within the community use their platform to raise awareness about HIV.
‘If you’re having sex no matter if it’s casual or exclusively with your partner, then it’s also your responsibility to make sure you’re not putting yourself and others at risk.’
That’s why the National HIV Testing Week message is clear: get tested and know your HIV status. Then, if you’re diagnosed, you can access the treatment and support you need to live well with HIV.
Austin admits that he wasn’t always clued on up on all things HIV as growing up in the 80s his perception of HIV was completely different to what it is now.
‘Growing up in Southern Indiana, I learned from a very young age due to the scaremongering AIDS ads that the gay community was harder hit than other communities by AIDS. Back in the 80s around the time of the AIDS epidemic, the media would often portray AIDS as a “gay man’s virus” and this was what intensified my fear of HIV. This was at a time when I didn’t know the difference between them both. But, obviously things have moved on since then!
‘These days, if your results come back positive then you can get on effective treatment, make sure your viral load is undetectable and then go on living your life. If your results come back negative then you still go on living life as normal, just maybe this time around you can look at how you can maintain good sexual health practice moving forward,’ he adds.
Whilst we had Austin in our presence it seemed unfair to not to ask him about his Big Brother experience and get the scoop on his modelling career, so here goes…
So let’s start by taking you all the way back to the early 2000s and your time on A-List: New York, which at the time was one of the first reality shows that delved into the experiences of gay men. What was your first taste of reality TV like?
At the time of filming, I was twenty years old, in a relationship and making a decent amount of money, so life was good! The show was very popular as it was one of the first shows in the early noughties that represented the versatility within the gay community. People got the chance to see a realistic representation of a young ambitious gay couple in New York.
We see your pics on the gram, so we know you’re no stranger to the camera. What made you get into modelling?
A majority of my family are in the entertainment industry. My grandma worked in radio, my uncle had a theatre in Chicago and I’ve been an athlete from a young age. At 15/16 I was 6’0 and I had a great build due to my athleticism, so my family suggested that I get into modelling, and the rest is history!
For those who don’t know, in 2015 you were the runner up on Celebrity Big Brother. What was your experience like in the house?
I enjoyed my time on Celebrity Big Brother. What I found funny was that I gravitated more towards the British side. They all pretty much took me under their wing. It was a lovely experience to have James in there as well, I was happy to see that we were able to represent a friendship between a gay man and a straight man without any speculation of us fancying each other.
However, my second time around on the All-stars show wasn’t so enjoyable. This was mainly because I didn’t have anything in common with the rest of the housemates. I also wasn’t in a good state of mind mentally, so I really couldn’t fully enjoy the experience as I had previously.
In 2015, Attitude magazine awarded you and your fellow housemate James the TV Moment of the Year, and we think it’s fair to say everyone loved the bromance you shared. Do you and James still speak?
No, unfortunately, our personalities weren’t as compatible in the real world. But that’s fine and I still wish him nothing but the best.
Now to take it back to testing, what would your advice be to anyone afraid to get tested?
Getting tested is nerve-racking at first. But fear is not a valid reason for you to not get tested and be healthy. The only thing that can stop that fear of the unknown is getting tested, knowing your status and moving forward with whatever the outcome is.
Get tested today
There are loads of places and ways to test for HIV. You can find out where to test near you on startswithme.org.uk or order a free postal test, which will be send directly to your door in plain packaging.
If you have any questions about HIV or HIV testing, you can call THT Direct on 0808 802 1222 or visit tht.org.uk/thtdirect.