Faces of HIV – Nine

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

Brook

“I’ve worked for HIV Edmonton for fourteen months now. It’s good. It fits with who I am and what I’m about. I’m HIV positive myself and I’m also a part of the queer community. We are a community that continues to be disproportionately impacted by HIV amongst a whole slough of other health outcomes. This position gives me an opportunity to really make a difference in that area.”

“Is there anything you’d very much like to accomplish?”

“The goal is health equity. I really want to see my community thrive and there’s a million different things involved with that but I think we could come to a day when queer men have equitable opportunity to experience positive health and wellbeing. That’s the dream and we’re far from it. The work we do with HIV and sexual health is a big part of it. Men who have sex with men continue to make up about half of new HIV infections every year across Canada. The numbers can fluctuate—here in Alberta it was a little less last year, but still, across the board. I think it says something about how we are valued as a community—as sexual and gender minorities and I think it’s really important. There was some really amazing stuff that happened back in the early days of the AIDS movement. I don’t think our community as a queer community has ever really demonstrated the type of organization and passion that we did back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and I think we’ve become a little complacent and haven’t really done too much. People aren’t dying like they did in the ‘80s when it was very apparent and horrific, but now people are still dying but it’s much more silent and because of that I don’t think we really engage in matters of our health’s much but it’s still extremely important—both in terms of HIV and mental health across the board so it’s really about organizing the community and consolidating power so that we’re able to take our health into our own hands and say, ‘This is not enough.’”

“HIV didn’t go anywhere, but the conversation fell silent. It’s a hard line to walk because HIV is much more manageable now—I’ve been living with HIV for about four and a half years, and it really doesn’t factor into my life as far as my physical health. It would be harder to manage something like diabetes … We now have the tools necessary to stop HIV legitimately. I mean there’s not a vaccine and there’s not a cure, but we know about prevention in terms of treating people living with HIV and the impact that has on rates. We know now that we have interventions like image result for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It was just approved by Health Canada. Essentially, people who are HIV negative who might be at a higher risk of infection, they can actually take HIV medication and it’s extraordinarily affective at preventing infection. So we do have the types of tools necessary to end this epidemic amongst the populations that it most impacts, which are sexual, gender, and racial minorities. So it’s just about the political will. We really need that to make a dent in it.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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