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Dr Alessandro Ceccarelli: “Every action, no matter how small, contributes to a larger movement towards a more just and inclusive society”

Alessandro Ceccarelli.

A key figure of the Fast Track Cymru initiative in Wales, NAT trustee Dr Alessandro Ceccarelli is the former Head of LGBT+ Policy for the Welsh Government, and a leading advocate for LGBT+ and HIV rights in Wales.

In June 2024, Alessandro featured again on the Pinc List of the most influential LGBT+ people in Wales, his fourth consecutive year on the list.

How did you first become involved in LGBT+ advocacy?

My journey has been really personal, and largely driven by the fights for equality and social justice throughout my life. I’m originally from Italy, but have lived in Spain, Greece, France, India, England and now Wales to pursue my studies and career. In many of those countries I have seen - with my own eyes - the stark disparities faced by LGBT+ communities, particularly in terms of education, health and social acceptance.

I got involved in HIV advocacy when I lived in England and first supported a PrEP campaign, and continued when I moved to Wales, where I got to know amazing local activists like Lisa Power. I realised the urgent need for change and support within communities. It has become more than just a professional calling, but a real personal passion now to try and help build a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

My previous work as the Head of LGBTQ+ Policy for the Welsh Government allowed me to influence significant policy changes, leading on the development and implementation of the LGBTQ+ Action Plan for Wales; while as an advocate I’ve pushed for an HIV Action Plan for Wales, which is now being implemented. My journey has taken me in many directions, but always inspired by the incredible people I have met and worked with along the way.

You've been named in the Pinc List for four consecutive years. How does it feel to be recognised for your contributions to LGBT+ advocacy?

It's a huge honour - and to be recognised alongside an incredible group of people is really humbling. More importantly, it highlights the collective progress we’ve made as communities in Wales. This recognition isn't just about my work; it's a testament to the tireless efforts of so many activists and advocates who strive to make Wales a more inclusive place for everyone. The real reward comes from seeing tangible improvements in the lives of LGBT+ individuals, whether through better access to healthcare, inclusive education, stronger legal protections, or reduced stigma.

What are your main priorities in the fight against HIV in Wales?

Our primary focus is on two fronts: HIV prevention, including testing and PrEP; and tackling HIV-related stigma, which includes improving the quality of life of people living with HIV. We're working tirelessly to promote HIV testing, especially through initiatives like Wales HIV Testing Week, which we set up a few years ago and aims to normalise testing and encourage everyone to know their status. Additionally, campaigns like "Stop HIV Stigma", which we launched for the first time this year in Wales, are critical in challenging misconceptions and prejudice, ensuring that people living with HIV can lead full, stigma-free lives. 

You are considered one of the creators of Wales HIV Testing Week. But can you tell us more about your involvement with Fast Track Cymru and its impact on the community?

All of our projects in Wales used to be volunteer-led, and they are all collaborations between various partners. Fast Track Cymru is a groundbreaking initiative we started in Wales from the bottom up, focusing on accelerating our response to HIV across the nation. By bringing together key stakeholders, including healthcare providers, community organisations and people living with HIV, we aim to streamline services and ensure support is available where it's needed most.

We have also had a great record of success running pilots, such as the GP-led “Texting 4 Testing” initiative or our anti-HIV stigma campaign; HIV Testing campaigns, an HIV advocacy network, and more. These have tended to be used elsewhere as templates or just adopted by others.

Fast Track Cymru and the National AIDS Trust have also partnered on several pivotal initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life of those living with HIV. One significant collaboration is the HIV Outcomes initiative, which focuses on addressing mental health issues and enhancing provision for those affected. The partnership also explores inclusive practices in both private and public sectors, in the work they have done on the HIV Confident Charter, which promotes workplace inclusivity and support for employees living with HIV.

Fast Track Cymru and NAT collaborations have also been instrumental in influencing government legislation and policy developments, ensuring the experiences and needs of people living with HIV are prioritised and incorporated into the decision-making process.

You've been a vocal advocate for tackling HIV stigma. Why is this an important issue for you personally and professionally?

Tackling HIV stigma is crucial because stigma can have devastating effects on individuals and communities. It can deter people from getting tested, accessing treatment, or even talking openly about their experiences. On a personal level, I have seen the harm stigma causes, several times more than the virus itself. By addressing stigma head on, we can break down barriers to care and foster a more inclusive society where everyone can thrive.

Wales is leading the field in the HIV sector in several ways, with many successful initiatives. How do you see these reflected in your work?

Initiatives like the free and confidential Postal Testing Service, offered by Sexual Health Wales and Zoe Couzens’ team, and the Wales HIV Testing Week campaign have been successful in increasing access to testing and raising awareness, especially in rural areas. These programmes have made testing more accessible and less stigmatised, which is crucial for early diagnosis and treatment.

However, there are also critical areas needing improvement. For instance, the availability of HIV services is limited, with significant disparities in service provision across different regions of Wales, such as in-person services, access to PrEP, and mental health services.

We face challenges with understaffed clinics, particularly in rural areas, where access to services is severely restricted; issues around data input, collection and sharing; and the lack of an all-Wales sexual health case management, surveillance and reporting system. There's also a real need for better engagement with GPs and a better peer-support network to empower individuals living with HIV.

These are areas where our work, particularly with Fast Track Cymru, is working to drive change and improvement.

What are your goals for the future of LGBT+ advocacy and HIV prevention?

To continue pushing for comprehensive, inclusive policies and practices that address the needs of marginalised groups. For HIV advocacy, I will continue to support the expansion of our testing, PrEP, and anti-stigma initiatives, ensuring everyone has access to the resources and support they need. I want to see a continued reduction in HIV stigma, so that we can create a society where people living with HIV are valued, treated with dignity, celebrated and respected.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I’d just like to remind everyone that every action, no matter how small, contributes to a larger movement towards a more just and inclusive society. I encourage everyone to get involved in HIV prevention and the fight against HIV stigma, whether it's through advocacy, education, or simply by being an ally.

Jun 24, 2024 By santi.agra