A former Senator, Australia’s top Tough Mudder racer and a well-known businessman took a stand against HIV stigma last week and joined the Melbourne-based ENUF campaign as its newest ambassadors.
Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja and her partner and corporate/political advisor, Ian Smith, have thrown their support behind Living Positive Victoria’s campaign against HIV stigma and discrimination.
Deanna Blegg, the third best Tough Mudder competitor in the world and the best Tough Mudder racer in Australia, has also backed this important campaign as a HIV-positive woman.
Stott Despoja, Smith and Blegg told the Star Observer their focus would be on HIV stigma for women.
“In Australia, women are the minority of the minority. So in many respects, the campaigns, the attention, the resources, the profile have not surrounded the issue of women be they heterosexual or otherwise who are HIV positive,” Stott Despoja said.
“That compounds this problem where women can feel quite invisible in this space because there’s no encouragement for speaking up, there’s not even a spotlight shined on the fact a lot of women in Australia are HIV-positive and, no pun intended, living positive, productive lives and people don’t often get to see wonderful role models.”
Blegg, a heterosexual mother who was diagnosed at 24-years-old almost two decades ago, said it was important the virus was destigmatised.
“I guess there’s so many heterosexuals and so many people living with HIV that just hide their status and live in a world where they can’t be themselves,” Blegg said.
“There’s always secrets, there’s always hiding, there’s always shame and I’m an openly positive woman and feel totally liberated that I can live as an openly-positive woman.
“There are negative backlashes, there’s always going to be but I’ve got my family and my friendship base… but not everyone can be in that position.”
Blake said it could be devastating for an HIV-positive person to be open about their status if support from friends and family was absent.
Smith said straight men had role to play in this cause.
“We shouldn’t be talking about communities, whether it’s gay or straight, male or female, we should be talking as one… it was not that long ago where depression was seen as something we didn’t talk about so why can’t we talk openly about it,” he said.
Women make up 56 per cent of HIV-positive adults worldwide but about nine per cent of people living with HIV in Australia are women.