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Ant Babajee “Our voices are most clearly heard when we work together”

Ant Babajee

Diagnosed with HIV in 2007 and describing himself as ‘unashamedly undetectable’, Ant Babajee is a former BBC journalist, award-winning activist, public health graduate and coaching professional apprentice.

Ant is a member of National AIDS Trust’s Community Advisory Group, a trustee of Positively UK, and was awarded Change Maker of the Year by Stonewall in the 2023 Workplace Equality Index for his LGBT+ and HIV activism and advocacy. Ant’s day job is as a digital marketing manager at Middlesex University London.

Why do you feel it’s important to celebrate Pride month?

We have made amazing progress in this country, not only in terms of LGBT+ rights, but also in things like access to PrEP, which was led by LGBT+ activists along with National AIDS Trust. Our community has been at the forefront of the response to HIV and AIDS since the very beginning. But we also know that so many people here in the UK and around the world are being marginalised because they are LGBT+, and even more so when you consider those from the queer community who are also living with HIV.

Across the world, policies are being implemented that are homophobic or transphobic, and the HIV response is really damaged by that. Not just in terms of the services that are then available, but also because it means that people are less willing to come forward to get sexual health check-ups or HIV tests. We have fought and won so many battles here in the UK, but from a global perspective there is just so much that we still need to do – and so many hearts and minds we still need to win over. That's why we still need Pride and that's why it's important that we celebrate, but also that we reflect on the fact that Pride is actually a protest, and we need to get our voices heard.

Can you tell me more about how your LGBT+ and HIV activism have been combining in recent years – particularly through your work with UNISON around HIV stigma and workplace discrimination?

I think there is a massive opportunity within the union movement for us to get our message out about how people should be treated fairly and to help to further our fight against HIV stigma. UNISON is the largest trade union in the UK and represents thousands of members across the public services, including healthcare, local government and higher education, where I work. These past few years that I've been volunteering with UNISON, my LGBT+ and HIV activism have very much come together. The union movement is all about fighting against discrimination and fighting for fair treatment, so these kinds of struggles are very much aligned.

Recently, we got the union to review its own policies, which hadn’t been updated since the early 2010s and had no mention of U=U (undetectable = untransmittable). I felt really proud when I was moving our motion on HIV stigma at UNISON’s LGBT+ Conference in Liverpool. I'm finding new allies for our work, and it felt like an important moment for me personally and for our movement. Combating HIV stigma is now a campaigning priority for UNISON, and we're really hoping our campaign will reach even further, and gain national traction with the other trade unions.

In the future, what are the key things that you think need to happen for the LGBT+ community and people living with HIV to thrive?

There's a number of things that we need to do to support LGBT+ people to live their best lives, and there are things as a wider society we need to do to help people living with HIV to thrive. They're quite similar in the sense of calling on society at large to be accepting of difference, to be kinder and to listen, and to provide specialist support services. We know that if you are a member of the LGBT+ community, living with HIV, or if you're both, that largely because of societal stigma and marginalisation, you are more likely to struggle with your mental health as well as with issues around drink and drugs. What we need are more allies who listen to us, understand our difference and are accept us for who we are.

There is also quite a lot of work we still need to do truly to tackle HIV stigma. Alongside bearing down on new cases of HIV and reaching the 2030 goals, we need to be focusing on stigma. Societal stigma around HIV becomes greater if we don't keep talking about living with the virus and if we don't keep the focus on what our needs are.

What would you suggest for people who want to engage in activism this Pride season and beyond?

Activism can be big loud protest marches, but it doesn’t have to be. If you're living with HIV, it can be telling one trusted person about your HIV status and explaining what it means to take medication every day. If you're a member of the LGBT+ community, it could be explaining all sorts of things that might not be well understood by your friend. I think even those one-on-one conversations are a form of activism. One of the things that really frustrates me is the assumptions that are made about me as a gay man. I think wider society can think that all gay men are the same, and we're absolutely not. We're just as individual as the rest of society.

Activism and advocacy can take many forms – and we need the full spectrum of different types of agitating to make change happen. One thing I always have to challenge myself about, is thinking that I'm not doing enough – because just one small action is enough. It's great if it can be more, but don't ever feel that you can't be a part of helping to make the world a better place and to be part of making that change you want to see. I would really encourage people to start volunteering with their local LGBT+ community group or Pride, as well as their local HIV support charity. What I love about National AIDS Trust is how, as a charity, you are now really involving people living with HIV to make your work stronger, and to help you to prioritise where the needs are and what you should be campaigning on. Our voices are heard most clearly when we work together.

For more on Pride 2024, visit our webpage.

Jun 19, 2024 By santi.agra