We Were Always Here HIV podcast series tells untold stories of the epidemic
Marc Thompson. (Provided)
As one of Britain’s foremost HIV activists, Marc Thompson is used to sharing his life story.
Living with HIV since 1986, he has been at the forefront of activism and education for social justice for decades since. As a result, it is regularly called upon speak for story projects, with newspapers and broadcasters, and at events.
About two years ago, Thompson found himself “struck by the lingering whiteness and masculinity of these events and the narrative,” he said. RoseNews.
âAnd that really frustrated me, because I knew there were a lot more stories to tell. There are a lot of people who are absent: people of color, women, people who were openly sex workers. There were people who were not living with HIV, but who were affected or had been volunteers or clinicians, whose stories were not recorded.
These vital stories were missing in the modern narrative of the HIV epidemic – in part because, as was the case for the past year It’s a sin, those who have been given the platforms to tell such stories are largely white, cis, and gay men, speaking from their own experiences. So, as is his nature, Thompson decided to do something about it.
The result is We were still there: an ambitious podcast series for which Thompson and Broccoli Productions collected more than 70 hours of interviews, with more than 50 people “who lived through one of the most significant periods in British and world history”.
Our new podcast #WeWereAlwaysHere is here! Tell a story of the UK AIDS pandemic from these most marginalized voices.
Break the ice with the host @ marct_01. Co-founder of @TeamPrepster & Director @TheLoveTankCIC
Listen to episode 1 ð https://t.co/QdoctcYSgQ pic.twitter.com/jbfrqpZmUu
– Broccoli productions (@BroccoliContent) October 13, 2021
âWe now have these stories for a national archive,â he said. âThese are the men and women who changed the world. They were volunteers. They were policy makers. These were people who would sit right next to their boyfriends or husbands or their wives’ bedside. And now we have it now we have it recorded so that in 50, 60 years a young person, when I’m dead and gone, will say: What happened in the AIDS epidemic? And they can go back and listen to these stories.
One of the most memorable interviews in the series is with Arnold Gordon, a retired journalist and host who proudly announces to Thompson that he will be “88 this year.”
A gay man, he remembers visiting Sierra Leone, where he was born, for work in the 1980s, and on his return to visit a close friend of his who had been hospitalized with HIV.
âNo one was approaching him in the hospital, they kept him separate, and he was very upset about it,â Gordon recalls in the podcast. His friend had warned him that the new virus at the time was hitting homosexuals hard, but that black homosexuals would be “more affected – and there is no help for the black community.”
The Terrence Higgins Trust was, at the time, the only group supporting people living with HIV and AIDS in Britain, “but they were very tight-knit.” On his deathbed, Gordon’s friend suggested that he could do something to help black people affected by HIV. He then founded Blackliners, which supported black communities and other ethnic minorities with HIV prevention efforts and support services.
Gordon’s story is inspiring and important – and it seems incredible that his name is not among our most famous LGBT + elders. It’s stories like his that Thompson wants to preserve for future generations. Basically it’s about expanding the narrative, creating space for the stories of people who, because they are black, of color, women, sex workers or some other marginalized group, have been. excluded – while respecting those whose stories we already know.
âIt’s really important to recognize that at the height of the epidemic, say 82 to 92, there was a massive number of cisgender white men and cisgender men who were affected by this,â Thompson said. . âI’m not trying to rewrite history, and I don’t want to exclude my brothers from it because they were deeply touched and deeply traumatized by what happened. All I’m trying to do is restore that balance.
Originally, the podcast was to be called A very British epidemic. In addition to highlighting unknown voices, Thompson wanted to question what made Britain’s response to the HIV crisis unique and what made the UK ‘ripe for an epidemic to take hold’.
Although COVID has ended the original title, the series still questions these questions. The answer, basically: âWe had a Conservative government that was reactionary, that didn’t believe in society, that didn’t believe in gay love. We had a deeply homophobic press and media – the same way we see attacks on trans people today, but in fact the language was even more violent, was even more in your face.
âAnd there was physical and literal homophobia on the streets. So you had all these things going on, but what we also had in this country was a National Health Service set up so that people didn’t have to pay for care and treatment; we had the Gay Liberation Front, which was already moving. So we had some kind of roots to start tackling this. But we also had a pretty puritanical approach to sex and sexuality, which meant there were barriers to actually talking about how this thing was transmitted. So all of these things made it really ripe for an outbreak to happen, but also for the response to happen in a way that did. “
That response was, in large part, that communities mobilized as Margaret Thatcher’s government waited up to five years after Britain’s first confirmed HIV death to launch a public health campaign. Ultimately, the epidemic set the stage for a broader confrontation between the government and the LGBT + community, culminating in the horrific Article 28, which prohibited the âpromotionâ of LGBT + lives by schools and local authorities.
âWhat the epidemic did, first of all, was it started to create that momentum, to build that movement,â Thompson said. âSo when Term 28 comes in the late 80s, you already have this supercharged community: f ** k, they’re attacking us here. We have to fight. You are starting to lay the groundwork for some of the political activism that we have today. “
Another unique legacy of the UK crisis, according to Thompson, has been a change in healthcare.
âHealth care was really paternalistic, top-down and not community driven. The HIV epidemic, because everyone ignored us, we had to create our own [programmes]. For example, take the Patient Expert [a peer-led support programme for people with long-term conditions]… Because nobody took us on board [at the start of the HIV epidemic], we had to inquire about our condition. We had to learn to take care of ourselves. We have therefore developed programs and have become expert patients. It is now part of the NHS.
Forty years after the start of the epidemic, the HIV landscape has changed. Effective treatment means that people who contract the virus can live long and happy lives. PrEP, a daily pill, can protect against HIV. But Thompson believes that “the needs of the most marginalized are still not being met as well as they should be.” His own organizations, Prepster (which was at the forefront of the push for PrEP on the NHS) and Blkout are among those supporting these communities, but there is still a long way to go.
âFunding is a big reason,â he says. âWe no longer have the money invested in sexual health or HIV prevention like we once did. That this is just a simple factâ¦ But we have the possibility of doing things differently. We now have digital, so it’s easier to get messages out. It is easier to meet the needs of these men. But it’s not just about prevention messages, it’s also about improving access. This is to make sure that the clinics are accessible to young black and brown men, so that they are not afraid to go in, they do not think they are going to be unmasked. These systemic problems persist and these are the things that need to change. “
We were still there, by Broccoli Productions, is now available on Spotify and other podcast platforms.