Australian reporter for ABC News in Los Angeles, Karl Schmid, made headlines earlier this year after revealing his HIV status in an emotional Facebook post.

Matthew Wade caught up with him to find out about the response, his role at the ABC, and being a role model for young LGBT people.

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In the months since coming out as HIV-positive, what has the response been like?

Fortunately the response has for the most part been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Honestly, I had no idea when I posted the picture of me wearing the AIDS Memorial t-shirt (#WhatIsRememberedLives) that it would reach anyone beyond my very small social and work circles. The way it took off and continues to make news around the world continues to surprise me.

What motivated you to disclose your status this year?

It’s been 11 years since my diagnosis now. Honestly, I had been going back and forth about the idea of speaking publicly about it for some time. I had been following The AIDS Memorial Instagram page and purchased one of their t-shirts. It’s a great feed where people can post pictures and memories of their friends and loved one who we have lost to HIV/AIDS. I didn’t really have a personal connection to anyone who had passed away, so I decided to post the picture of me in the t-shirt and tell my story. It’s been incredibly liberating.

Do you think there’s still a lot of stigma around HIV, even within the gay community?

The stigma associated with HIV is one of the main reasons HIV/AIDS is still spreading at an alarming rate in some parts of the world. The images that were burned into our memory from the 1980s and 1990s were effective at shocking people back then but we haven’t moved past that and for many, when they think of or hear the letters HIV, that is all they know.

It shocks me and saddens me that within the younger gay community there is so much stigma and discrimination towards those of us live with HIV. To be asked if I am “clean” when it comes to enquiring about my sexual health and overall health is not only offensive but it’s incredibly ignorant. It’s time we have a new and very real conversation about what it means to be HIV-positive in this day and age and hopefully by me telling my story I’m helping to facilitate that a little.

How do you feel about being a role model for younger LGBT people?

If me being out, open, and honest about my HIV status helps those who are living in shame, fear, or isolation because they are either HIV-positive or too scared to get tested, then I’m only too happy to take that role. People must understand that being healthy and undetectable means that there is zero risk of transmitting the infection to anyone else. That’s a game changer. But sadly, many health care professionals and organisations are still refusing to listen to the words of the World Health Organisation. Science, not stigma, people.

What do you love most about your role as a correspondent for ABC News in the U.S.?

I’m extremely lucky in what I get to do here at K-ABC in Los Angeles and for ABC Networks and digital, in that I am not just a contributor on camera but I also get to produce. Most of what I do is in the entertainment space so getting to be there at the Oscars every year or other exciting big red carpet events is great fun.

But on the flip side I also get to write and produce pieces across the various platforms so one minute I could be interviewing Oprah or Lady Gaga, and the next I’m producing a piece on some of the world’s most famous cocktails. Every day is different, challenging, and exciting.

What advice would you give to younger LGBT people struggling with their identity?

I don’t think it’s my place to give advice. I think we all struggle with our identity right throughout our lives. Trying to find a balance of being happy and liking who you are while still trying to push yourself to be better and greater than who you currently are should be of focus… now if only I could listen to those wise words of wisdom I just gave.

You’re visiting Sydney in December to speak on a panel about HIV stigma. What are you most looking forward to about your trip home?

I haven’t been home in three years so I’m very much looking forward to seeing my family – especially my grandmothers. Three years is also a very long time to go without a decent cup of coffee so that will no doubt be one of the first things I grab before I leave Melbourne Airport. Beyond that I’m really looking forward to participating on this panel with the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation alongside Positive Life NSW and ACON.

A new conversation about what it means to be HIV-positive in this day and age must be had and we must start to educate people on the facts. It’s not 1984 anymore.

Karl Schmid will be appearing on the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation’s ‘Challenging HIV Stigma’ panel on Tuesday 18 December at 6pm, City Recital Hall. For more information visit: challenginghivstigma.eventbrite.com.au

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