Pose star Billy Porter earlier this month spoke out about his HIV positive and we are all inspired! In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the star said he had been living with HIV since 2007. He says he did not want to talk about his health issues prior for fear of discrimination at work.
This brought to mind the sad reality of many men especially in Uganda who are afraid to even come out as gay, let alone HIV positive. This revelation highlighted the need for more celebrities to speak up about living with HIV if we are ever to beat stigma at the workplace. Philly Bongole Lutaaya gave HIV a familiar human face as the first Ugandan artist to openly declare that he was living with HIV. While addressing Ugandan press over two decades ago at a hotel in Kampala, the musician then declared that he would spend the rest of his life advocating against stigma associated with HIV.
In the interview Billy Porter talks about how back in 2007 he went to the doctor and was able to procure an HIV test that confirmed his status. His disclosure serves to remind us that when gay men living with HIV have free access to medication without stigmatization, they can go on to lead long healthy lives and productive lives.
In Uganda, organizations like Icebreakers which was the first queer friendly clinic in the country has taken up the mantle to provide discreet HIV testing and treatment services for gay men; the initiative has been so successful that the organization started providing healthcare services to other queer people in Uganda despite their gender and sexual orientation. With lots of advocacy by LGBTIQ human rights defenders, some government hospitals have set aside discreet spaces for LGBTIQ to seek healthcare, the most prominent being MARPI in Kampala. However, there is still need to continue with advocacy for more access to stigma free healthcare services for gay men people.
Billy Porter speaks about how he has been in and out of therapy for years, which has empowered him through his struggles with sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his step father. He says it is because of therapy that he has been able to speak about his condition. Typically, due to misogyny, black men are discouraged from expressing their emotions. For one to go for therapy, they would be perceived as weak and not “man enough”. In Uganda until recently, mental healthcare in form of therapy was unheard of. Seeking mental healthcare was seen as an extreme course of action attached with lots of stigma. Thanks to advocacy and campaigns on the importance of mental healthcare, more people now seek the services of therapists. These services however are quite expensive and many gay men living with HIV cannot easily afford them.
Icebreakers Uganda clinic and other organizational in-house medics provide free counseling and guidance and referrals to professional therapists. Through their peer to peer module the clinic has also managed to form small groups of gay men living with HIV who have since become their “brother’s keeper” while on top of ensuring that group members adhere to treatment, they offer each other mental health support. We need to unlearn harmful narratives that hold us back from seeking therapy. Let us learn from Billy Porter that there is no shame in seeking mental health care. There is no time frame for seeking therapy and one is free to go see a doctor for as long as they want to.
When he came out to his mother as HIV positive she said “You’ve been carrying this around for 14 years? Don’t ever do this again. I’m your mother, I love you no matter what. And I know I didn’t understand how to do that early on, but it’s been decades now.” To that Billy Porter admits that his own shame and years of trauma made him skittish but the truth set him free. As a Ugandan man it is almost impossible to come out as gay let alone living with HIV due to the stigma from the societies we live in. How then does a gay man living with HIV get the support they need to continue living? Reaching out to MSM and other LGBTIQ organizations is a great first step for anyone who needs support. All one has to do is go online, look up the nearest LGBTIQ organization and they are set!
Today I truly stan a king! All hail Billy Porter who reminded us about the importance of living health with HIV. If he can do it, you can do it!
DISCALIMER: The views expressed within this article do not reflect those of Kuchu Times Media Group. Although it compares Billy Porter’s experience and that of a Ugandan man living with HIV, the article is not in any way meant to denigrate any of the parties' experiences because although everyone is unique the struggle with HIV is real for all of us.