While HIV as death sentence is very much a thing of the past for people in the UK living with the virus, the stigma surrounding it sadly remains very much part of our present.
To help break the silence, a young man living with HIV, George Hankers, decided to stand blindfolded in London’s Trafalgar Square holding a sign reading ‘I’M HIV+’ in big, bold letters.
Passers-by had the opportunity to keep on walking or to write messages of support for George and others living with HIV – which included over 30,000 in London alone in 2014.
The experiment, created social change group Shape History, was designed to see how ordinary Londoners would react to someone being open, honest and vulnerable about their HIV status.
Their reaction moved George to tears.
George, who shares his experiences of living with HIV on his blog, ‘Still Human’, said the blindfold represented the sense of isolation he felt following his diagnosis, but that the reaction of passers-by showed that there was love and support for people living with HIV in the UK.
“When I was diagnosed with HIV I battled with very low self esteem and I’d been blinded from hope. The sense of unity I had after the experiment was very heartwarming – people would touch my hand or reach out and give me a hug. It made me want to take off the blindfold and not be sheltered from their generosity,” he said.
“It really goes to show that there is more comfort out there for people living with HIV than we initially think.”