HIV stigma isn’t going away

A unique and powerful charter mark created by a Sunderland lecturer to increase employers’ commitments to becoming HIV-friendly is relaunching to tackle the ongoing workplace stigma surrounding the virus.

Since its official launch in April 2018, the Positive Allies charter mark – the first of its kind in the world – has signed up a number of organisations across the UK, from schools, universities and business parks to not-for-profit organisations and small businesses.

Its key aim is to demonstrate organisations’ commitment to ensuring people living with HIV, as either staff or volunteers, are safe and that key staff undertake training, review policies and consider practices and resources, which demonstrate equality and openness about HIV.

The concept behind Positive Allies was the result of a research project undertaken by Drew Dalton in 2015 called ‘Silent Scream?’, which highlighted what life is like in the UK for people living with HIV and the barriers they faced. It found that those with HIV were still facing stigma within their working environments despite the introduction of the Equality Act (2010).

However, Drew – Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Programme Leader of MSc Inequality and Society at the University of Sunderland – has decided to relaunch Positive Allies early next year following the results of a recent public attitude survey by the National AIDS Trust.

“The survey carried out in the UK this year actually discovered that HIV stigma isn’t going away,” Drew explained.

“Although the public are becoming more and more sympathetic towards HIV, they still hold onto very prominent 1980s and 1990s stereotypes of HIV, with a third of that population in the survey actually stating that they held some stigma towards people living with HIV.

“This represents a real risk in places of employment where employment-related stigma exists, so we need to be putting out a message to say, come sign up to this free charter mark where you can actually be part of eliminating the problem.”

As we mark World AIDS Day on Wednesday (December 1st) Drew is reminding employers why signing up to the charter mark is so important.

“There are more than 105,000 people living with HIV in the UK,” he said.

“Of that, an increasing generation are aged 50-plus, who are growing older with the virus, and one in 16 people don’t even know they have it.

“There is still an issue with HIV that we need to address but, more importantly, it is also part of the Equality Act.

“HIV is designated as a disability because without treatment it will continue to debilitate, and so employers should be aware of this.”

The relaunch will be held online via Teams on Thursday, February 24th, 2022, from 4pm to 5pm, and will include a talk by author and HIV activist Roland Chesters.

Roland said: “Whilst HIV no longer necessarily kills, the impact of the stigma that continues to surround the condition on the mental health of a person living with it can absolutely kill them.

“People living with HIV are nowadays able to successfully work and be a productive employee.  Indeed, for many of them, being at work is a vital part of normalising their life after diagnosis. But they can only do that secure in the knowledge that their employer will support them and protect them from the discrimination they may encounter.

“The Positive Allies charter mark is a major step forward in enabling organisations to be recognised for the work they are doing in this area.”

Those attending the relaunch will get a free copy of Roland’s latest book, ‘Ripples from the Edge of Life’, which documents the stories of 14 people from across the UK living with HIV and, in some cases, AIDS and the impact on their lives.

The University was the first to volunteer and sign up to the charter mark when it launched three years ago at Canary Wharf, the University of Sunderland’s London campus.

Justine Gillespie, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the University, said: “Here at the University we have a set of values that bring clarity to the type of organisation we are and the principles that will guide the activities, decisions and principles and the behaviours that are required. One of those values is Inclusion.

“Inclusion is fundamentally about individual experience and allowing everyone to contribute and feel a part of our community and to able to be authentic at work.

“Positive action on inclusion can only come about with meaningful and intentional action and signing up to the Positive Allies charter mark an accreditation, which demonstrates that the University is committed to challenging stigma and being a fair and welcoming organisation for people living with HIV.”

To find out more about the relaunch of the Positive Allies charter mark and how to sign up, email Justine.Gillespie@sunderland.ac.uk

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