Books Launching at The London School of Health and Tropical Medicine: “Queer Footprints” by Dan Glass, and “Our Stories Told By Us” by Winnie Sseramu, Angela Namiba, Charity Nyirenda, Rebecca Mbewe and Memory Sachikonye..

It was exciting and thankfully, my new friend Skye arrived bang on time. Waiting for Dan Glass’s (DG) book and watching him go through the process of writing it on Social Media gave us a “can’t wait” build up. Nice! So it was also lovely to see that he did what he is famous for by allying in with a HIV+ fellow author and long time consultant and activist – Winnie Sseramu, one of my role models.

The presentations by both authors focused on the importance of solidarity, how we organise into social and political justice Movements resisting oppression. Drew Hawkinson, a Public Health Student at of the London School of Health & Tropical Medicine’s (LSHTM) LGBTQ Society facilitated, asking a handful of poignant questions, a few of which Winnie found a little challenging! It was a beautifully-spirited event, so while the issues of stigma and homophobia and illness arose,

Key Themes were Activism, Sexual Freedom, Education, Communication, Uganda and Solidarity with their Grass roots Organisers

Sseramu’s et als Book comes out May 26th, so we were kinda privileged to be getting this little sneak preview. It is essentially a book of stories of the lives of people affected by HIV, 30% of whom are HIV Activists.. The Book was conceived around the realisation that it was now 40 years since the UK became active around the issues and Sseramu herself has been living with the virus for 35years. A long Term Survivor and these days a Freelance Consultant, Winnie worked for a decade with Christian AID and commented that by the time she left the issue had become almost invisible there. That there seems to be decade-long cycles of mobilisation and then not a lot. No wonder she became Freelance!

“Our Stories Told By Us” is about the good work that has come out of the HIV+ African Community over decades, about those who pioneered the UK’s NGO sector from Zambia, Uganda, Kenya: collectively known as ZUC Africa. “We wanted to change the narrative without hiding from the challenges of the African Continent, “

said Sseramu, adding “We have to embrace HIV because we are living with it.” It was powerful to hear Winnie’s lessons of what she found most important, beginning with kindness to oneself. She cannot recommend 1-2-1 Counselling enough, and do “surround yourselves with a small network who have your back” no matter what. Also gripping for me was to hear: “when the anger is overwhelming, try and Listen better…”

Drew Hawkinson of the LGBTQ Society at the London School of Health & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said they had serious concerns about the ‘new’ Bill coming from the Ugandan Govt, which will further persecute people who have consensual same -sex conduct. It has even retained the death penalty in cases of ‘aggravated homosexuality,’, which is a broad term used to describe sex between people living with HIV. Still allowing a 20 year sentence for promoting homosexuality, there is the serious danger of losing any advocacy for the rights of the LGBTI families in Uganda. Sseramu interjected how ashamed she felt about this, but Dan Glass was quick to educate us about the fact that Homophobic Legislation from the UK was transported around the world beginning in 1533, with King Henry 8th, therefore we have some reparations to make. He also told us about the first grass roots HIV+ LGBTQI activist group – ICEBREAKERS – in Kampala, that he had visited recently. That gave me hope, especially when he said that £2k was rapidly raised for the group to support Queer people there.

The importance of Mentorship was discussed, and having a weekly evening of time with long-term healthcare activists. Speaking of Healthcare, Sseramu was eager to mention what an expert Angelina Namiba had become in HIV and reproductive rights.

Cornelius, an ACT.UP Friend asked a great question about what big Brit NGOs , say THT, can learn from Community Activism in a not-insignificant number of African countries, which reminded me that People Who Use Drugs (PWUDs) have been organising Harm Reduction posse’s in Kenya and beyond for several years already. We rarely hear about these life-saving innovations in the Media but We should be shouting them from the Rooftops. Peer Support, Community Mobilisation, Buddying,Solidarity and Mentorship are all things that have been born out of dire need when people living with AIDS PLWAIDS and PWUDs for that matter were sick and/or dying, but government generally couldn’t give a damn.

Dan Glass spoke about how sexual, racial and political identities must also be foci of our attention, not to mention liberation for all. Ahem, is foci a word?! (Yep, plural of focus) That ultimately, everything is political, big and small P.. That we begin with the Principle “Nothing About Us Without Us” which I first heard in Vancouver’s Int’l Harm Reduction conference at least 18 years ago, but who knows where it gave birth. The point is, it is a radically important principle for oppressed minorities to rally around. Especially in an age where people are living longer and disabled people are too often ignored: Glass’s book tells of Josh, a wheelchair bound man disabled man, who’s sheer demanding and persistence led to : eye level bells that could be rung to notify his (and others ) arrival so he could finally get into his fave bars in Soho.They also also won struggles to set up more ramps and those indispensable radar keys that give us people living with (PLWDs) independence and access when dying to take a leak!

I was also grateful to hear of Denis Carney, an African-Carribean Queer who helped set up a Housing Association for PLWHIV in the London Borough of Camden. Glass writes, “In the early 1980s, Black gay men were disproportionately by HIV.” So it was there that the first Black Gay Mens Conference was held in October 1987, and by their third gathering, there were already 50 men showing up, “and that was before the internet” Carney says triumphantly

As ever, I was acutely aware of the lack of allusion to PWUDs as if we do not exist, but I am always assured by historical journeys that I have watched throughout the decades of HIV Activism. Most of the drugs we care about are still illegal, and so who wants to risk being discredited, especially when the atmosphere at LSH that night was so embracing of all, and dedicated time was given to promote self-care, especially by Sseramu

And so I want to dedicate this to David Stuart, an heroic Nurse who died 2020. David worked tirelessly in sex and drugs Harm Reduction for many years in Soho’s blessed space, 56 Dean street, as Dan referred to it, “the Hilton of sexual health centres.” Wherever you are, thanks for teaching my HIV brother about taking comfort on another mans breast. Somehow, his life soon took a turn for the better after that one brief encounter

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