IT’S a familiar story, but it’s one that still resonates widely: growing up gay in rural or remote areas can be an isolating and insular experience.
At the end of high school Paul Kidd was ready to move away from his small country town to a place where he wouldn’t have negative feelings about his sexuality.
[showads ad=MREC]“When I left home my only understanding was that gay men were despised and were only spoken about in negative ways,” he said.
“As I was recognising my own sexuality at the time, it was a hard thing to reconcile.”
Kidd is a long-time HIV activist and currently a member of the Justice Working Group for the Victorian Government’s LGBTI Taskforce.
As the chair of the HIV Legal Working Group, he helped bring about the repeal of Section 19A in Victoria — the only law of its kind in Australia that specifically criminalised the intentional transmision of HIV. He has also worked towards raising awareness and battling stigma around the virus.
During his first years at university he was “brought out” of the closet before coming out to his friends, family and the broader community.
“It was quite funny, I was with friends on campus having coffee and one friend felt like he’d been deputised because he said ‘Paul, we all know that you’re gay and you don’t have to hide it’,” Kidd recalled.
“It was a bit of a shock when it happened, I was dumbstruck by it… people could see from the outside that I was juggling two lives.”
Kidd came out at the beginning of the 1980s when he was living in NSW, before homosexuality was decriminalised in the state in 1984.
“There had been a great social revolution but there were still laws that hung over gay men,” he said.
“I can remember wandering through the streets of Paddington with my boyfriend at the time, talking about the fact that homosexuality was going to be decriminalised the next day.
“He said ‘let’s go home and do it one last time before it’s legal’.”
When Kidd came out, he wasn’t met with much negativity. However, being gay wasn’t the only struggle he faced.
Around the same time that law reform was moving through NSW, Kidd acquired HIV, although he wasn’t diagnosed until August 1991.
When HIV tests first came out he was dissuaded from taking one by his doctor, who was worried that the government would seize Kidd’s file and have him quarantined.
When he learned he was HIV-positive, the first person he told was his boyfriend at the time.
“He left me that day. He literally packed his bags and left,” he said.
“It was a terrible moment, but I had an obligation to tell him.
“Even in ’91 it was a terribly scary thing to confront… in retrospect I’m glad he left.”
Kidd only told one or two more people over the following year, when people were being diagnosed at a rapid rate.
“I was living in inner-Sydney and people were dying every day,” he recalled.
“You’d pick up the Sydney Star Observer [the former name of Star Observer] and there would be pages of obituaries, and every week I’d see someone I knew.”
As Kidd grew more comfortable disclosing his status to other people, he became a more active part of the gay community united against HIV.
“I felt like I had an obligation to speak up as a HIV-positive person because we lived in a community united in anger against the virus,” he said.
“In some ways it was the default position. Everyone was an activist on some level.”
The culture around revealing one’s HIV status has changed in recent years, with initiatives like the Disclosure Project helping HIV-positive people share their experiences in an online community.
As an ENUF ambassador for Living Positive Victoria, Kidd has been working to reduce the stigma around HIV and the stigma that surrounds things like disclosure.
“Some of the stuff that’s been done in the last few years has helped the conversation shift from how you can protect your confidentiality to how you can safely disclose your status,” he said.
“Stigma goes very deep and people have deep-rooted ideas about what HIV is, but a lot has gotten easier.”
**This article was first published in the December edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. To obtain a copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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