A Labour MP today revealed he is HIV positive in an emotional speech in the Commons – telling how he has been on a decade-long journey from ‘fear to advocacy’.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, 32, told how he decided to speak out and tell his story in a debate to mark World Aids Day because he ‘could not keep quiet anymore’.
Mr Russell-Moyle, who is gay, told how it ‘hit him like a wall’ when, as a 22 year-old student, he was told he had the virus while sat in an NHS clinic a decade ago.
Wearing the red Aids ribbon, the MP for Brighton Kemptown, said: ‘In that NHS room, with those cream carpets and plastic seating which we all know, they tell you.
‘And it hits you like a wall. And although you have prepared yourself for it, in your mind nothing quite prepares you for when they say those words.
‘And I remember looking up at that ceiling – those false ceilings that you get – and wishing one of those tiles would whip away and it would suck you up and you would wake up and it would all be a dream and it would all be over.’
He was given a rare standing ovation by MPs after he gave his moving speech – becoming the first MP ever to reveal his status in the Commons Chamber.
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Lloyd Russell-Moyle spoke movingly about his diagnosis in a debate to mark World Aids Day.
The Labour MP was given a rare standing ovation by MPs (pictured today) after he gave his moving speech – becoming the first MP to reveal his status in the Commons Chamber
MPs across the political divide sat in a rare silence as Mr Russell-Moyle told of his experience of living with the virus.
And they united in praising his bravery in speaking out. Jeremy Corbyn, who was in the debate, hailed his ‘enormous courage’ and said his ‘brilliant and historic speech’.
While Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle praised Mr Russell-Moyle for a ‘brave’ and ‘moving’ speech.
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s speech revealing he has HIV, in full:
Here is the speech Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle gave to the Commons in full:
Mr Deputy Speaker on the 1st of December 1988 we observed the first World AIDS day, it was created as an international day to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV and to mourn those who had died from the disease.
In two days time we mark it’s 30th anniversary – an event that gives us pause to reflect on how far we have come, and to remember those we’ve lost.
But such events are also deeply personal for me.
Because, Deputy Speaker, next year I’ll be marking an anniversary of my own: 10 years since I became HIV positive.
It’s been a long journey – from the fear to acceptance and from today advocacy, knowing my treatment keeps me healthy and that it protects any partner I have.
When you are first diagnosed, you get that call from the clinic and they just say, you need to come in.
You know immediately something is wrong and so all the different worst case scenarios flash through your mind and of course, being someone who is a sexually active young man, HIV is one of those scenarios that run through your mind. So you kind know, going in there, something is wrong.
But also you have flashing through your mind: maybe that it’s just a joke, maybe it is something innocuous, you’re trying to imagine everyway you might be able to get out of this.
And in that NHS room with cream carpets and plastic seating they tell you –
it hits you like a wall and even though you’ve prepared yourself in your mind nothing quite prepares you for when you hear it.
I remember looking up at those false ceiling tiles in that room, and hoped that maybe the ceiling would open up and I would be sucked up and it would all be a dream and it would all be over.
But the reality is Deputy Speaker Is, that’s not what happened
Instead you walk out of the that room, even with all the great support and advice that they offer you but you still walk out feeling totally numb, you have a million things running through your mind but at the same time a sense of nothingness.
I’ve decided to make this announcement today for a few reasons.
Early this year I was at an award ceremony in Brighton and I had nominated Gary Pargeter who had been running a lunch club for people living with HIV for a number of year called Lunch Positive.
He had won the award the people were coming up talking about how important the project was how brave he had been with his HIV status.
And I felt like, I’m watching someone who has done inspiring work and I am proud to have nominated him but I haven’t told anyone in this room that I am also HIV positive, and just like so many that attend Lunch Positive I’m lucky because the medication I’m on, means I won’t get sick and that I can’t transmit my HIV to anyone else.
I felt that if Gary and so many others can talk openly about it than so should I.
The second reason I wanted to make the announcement today is that.
We are on the cusp of being able to eradicate new HIV transmissions in this country. Figures today show already in parts of the country we have halted the rise in rates of HIV diagnosis
But we are at a fork in the road, and currently I worry we seem to be heading in the wrong direction: with £700 million cuts to public health between 20-14 to 20-20; we are not investing in a universal PrEP roll out, the pill that prevents HIV; and so I think it is important for me speak out
I finally I wanted to be able to stand in this place and tell all those out there living with HIV, that their status does not define them, we can be whoever we want to be and to those who haven’t been tested, I say, it is better to live in knowledge than die in ignorance.
Deputy Speaker, HIV in this country is no longer the death sentence it once was. A recent study led by University of Bristol found that due to advances in HIV treatments, people who live with HIV can expect to live a near normal life.
The improvement in survival for people with HIV is one of the greatest health success stories of recent times. What was once considered a terminal disease is now seen as a manageable condition. Yet this information has not changed the community narrative which is sadly still framed by the tombs of that scare campaign in the 1980’s
Yet so much of LGBT culture is still marked by the spectre of HIV, something that has led to an incredible sense of fear about the disease.
In that hospital room, and in the days and weeks that followed I had to come to terms with that fear.
I am a HIV Positive man, but because I’ve been taking the right medication for several years, I am what the NHS calls HIV positive ‘undetectable’. That means not only that you cannot detect HIV in my system, so I don’t get sick – it also means I can’t transmit HIV to someone else.
So as the virus lays undetectable and dormant in my body, my medication ensures that the virus doesn’t reactivate, doesn’t progress and can’t be passed on. That’s why Deputy Speaker the NHS says: Undetectable equals untransmittable.
UNAIDS highlights three large studies conducted between 20-07 and 20-16 of HIV transmission among thousands of couples, with one partner being HIV positive and the other negative. In those studies, there was not a single case of sexual transmission of HIV from an positive undetectable person to their HIV-negative partner.
Deputy Speaker it is safer to have sex with someone who is HIV positive undetectable than it is to have sex with someone who doesn’t know their status. Because Undetectable equals untransmittable
Understanding that I was unable to transmit my HIV sexually has been life-changing, I went from thinking that I would never be able to have a HIV negative partner or that if I had sex with someone I could pass it on – to the knowledge that I could live a normal life, and that any partner I have is totally protected.
So Deputy Speaker I can’t transmit HIV to a sexual partner and I live a perfectly healthy life so my announcement today should pass by unnoticed…
But I suspect my name will appear in the newspaper tomorrow as a result of being the first MP to declare themselves HIV positive in the chamber and only the second MP after Chris Smith to openly live with HIV as an MP.
To gauge what type of public reaction I might expect I went onto social media to read some of the comments on recent news article around HIV.
You don’t have to scroll far to find comments like ‘Anyone with HIV who has sex should be tried for murder’ or ‘fags getting what they deserve’ or ‘disgusting lifestyle choice’ now most of the people behind these comments will be homophobes who are just weaponizing HIV to attack the LGBT community and if it wasn’t HIV they would use something else.
But HIV stigma is not just a symptom of homophobes, even the most well meaning people can perpetuate HIV stigma. Stigma can take many shapes, it is
· Believing HIV and AIDS is always associated with death
· It’s thinking HIV is only transmitted through sex
· It’s thinking HIV infections are the result of personal irresponsibility or moral fault
Mr Russell-Moyle worked as a consultant to the UN and was chairman of the general council of the Woodcraft Folk before he was elected to Parliament last year.
He said he wanted to speak out to help shatter the secrecy and ‘fear’ which hangs over the virus.
Standing up in the famous green benches of the House of Commons, he told how Worlds Aids Day, which falls this weekend, will be marked by the whole country, but holds a special significance for him.
He said: ‘On 1 December 1988 we observed the first World Aids Day, it was created as an international day to raise awareness of the international pandemic caused by the spread of HIV and to mourn those who have died from the disease.
‘In two days time we mark its 30th anniversary and this event gives us pause to reflect how far we have come and to remember those who we have lost.
‘But such events are also deeply personal to me as next year I will be marking an anniversary of my own – ten years since I became HIV positive.
‘It has been a long journey – from the fear of acceptance and today hopefully advocacy, knowing my treatment keeps me healthy and protects any partner I may have.’
He is only the second MP to ever announce he has HIV as a member of Parliament.
Mr Russell-Moyle told how he first feared it was a ‘joke’ when he received the call from the clinic a decade ago.
He said: ‘When you are first diagnosed you get that cool from the clinic, and they just say – you need to come in.
‘They don’t tell you the details and you know immediately that something is going to be wrong.
‘So all of the different worst case scenarios flash through your mind, and of course HIV is one of those things that flashes through there.
‘So you kind of know going in there something is wrong and it might well be serious, but at the same time you are working out all the ways that this is just some joke, this is some technical error, this is some tiny thing you will be laughing about later.’
He said many are still too scared to get tested or speak out about the virus because of the scare tactics used by the 1980s ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ campaign – which showed a coffin in a cemetery.
He said this has led to an ‘incredible sense of fear about the disease’ which still hangs over the word HIV.
He added: ‘And in that hospital room, and in the days and weeks that followed, I had to come to terms with the fear myself.
‘I’m a HIV positive man but because I have been taking the right medication for several years, I am what the NHS calls HIV positive undetectable.’
The Labour MP said he hoped that one day soon HIV will be viewed in the same way smallpox and polio are looked on today – ‘diseases that were once killers, that can now be eradicated’.
He added: ‘LGBT people often talk about coming out as something that you constantly have to do – to new neighbours, friends and work colleagues. You can say the same about your HIV status.
‘I have spent many nervous moments deciding whether to tell new friends and acquaitances about my status.
‘The lump forms in your throat, and your heart flutters, and you finally kind of blurt it out and hopefully move on.’
He thanked Parliament for giving him the platform to ‘do just that’ and his friends and family for supporting him.
As he finished his speech, the many Labour MPs who had gathered to support him in the Chamber took to their feet to give him a standing ovation – flouting the ban on clapping in the Chamber.
In an interview before his speech to Parliament, Mr Russell-Moyle said he had decided to speak out ‘because he had a duty as a Member of Parliament’.
The 32-year-old, from Brighton, added that cuts to public health meant he could not ‘keep quiet anymore’ about an issue which affects him ‘so personally’.
Only one other MP has ever publicly spoken about being infected with the virus.
Former Labour cabinet minister Chris Smith revealed his status in 2005 through a newspaper interview, a few months before he was made a peer.
He said: ‘I felt like I had a duty as a Member of Parliament – a few months ago I was giving out awards, congratulating people who have spoken out about their HIV status, saying how brave they were.
‘And there was a feeling in the back of my mind saying “Well, if I’m congratulating people, I also need to be so brave to do that”.
‘My job as an MP is to speak out about personal experiences and linking those with political experience.
‘And if I can’t do it, how can I be asking others to do that?
‘Secondly, I think that we are genuinely at a real crossroads about where we can go with HIV now.
‘We start to see really the tools in our hands to eliminate HIV, really start to reduce HIV infections.
‘But at the same time, the Government is starting to slash sexual health budgets.
‘It has, of course, already done this crazy thing of putting (the responsibility for) sexual health into local councils and out of the NHS.
‘We have got the tools but we seem to be going in the wrong direction.
‘So, for me, there was also this political element that I can’t keep quiet about that any more, particularly when it not only affects people I know but it affects me so personally.’
He said it was ’10 years since I became HIV positive, nine years since I was diagnosed’.
Of discovering he had HIV, he said that as he tried to prepare himself, he mind was racing as he wondered if it was all some ‘horrible joke’.
He said: ‘At the same time it feels like your insides are completely empty and you wonder ‘Is this just a horrible joke?’.
‘You even think ‘I hope it is a horrible joke, I hope someone is going to pop out and say Candid Camera – boo! We’ve got you.
‘And of course that’s not what happens; you have got to walk out there and start making your life.
‘It is definitely difficult but it is not the end of the world, even though it might feel like that for a few seconds.’
Mr Russell-Moyle said he was put on treatment a ‘year or two’ after his diagnosis, adding: ‘That, actually, has been an absolute revelation for me, that you can effectively go about your life normally apart from a pill a day.’
On revealing his diagnosis to friends and family, he said: ‘The first person I rang up was a flatmate who I lived with whose younger brother happened to have HIV, so you first of all find out people that maybe understand a little bit of those experiences.
‘Then I told my parents relatively soon afterwards, but extended families, brothers and sisters – that takes a little while because one part of you doesn’t want to make a thing out of it.
‘You don’t want it to define your life and define who you are, but on the other hand, if you don’t speak out, you don’t talk about these things, then the stigma, the misconceptions about what it is, stays.
‘So it is a difficult choice, which is much harder at the beginning because you’re navigating also your own emotional feelings around it.
‘As you get more comfortable, it becomes easier to say.
‘But just now there was that moment, just before standing up in the Chamber, or saying to a new friend, your mouth goes dry, you get a little shake on your hands, you don’t know quite how it’s going to come out and you half-mumble it.’
The Labour MP said he has been hit with a feeling of relief after speaking out.
He said fellow MPs had been ‘really positive’ and shown support.
Who is Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle?
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, 32, is the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown.
He was born in Brighton and raised in nearby Lewes, a chocolate box town best known for its large-scale and raucous fireworks displays.
He attended local schools before being educated at the University of Bradford and the University of Sussex.
In the past he worked at the National Youth Agency, chaired the Woodcraft Folk educational charity and was vice president of the European Youth Forum in Brussels.
Mr Russell-Moyle was infected with HIV a decade ago, when he was around 22, but he did not get a formal diagnosis until around a year later.
He first ran to be an MP in Lewes in 2015 but came fourth.
Afterwards he was elected as a councillor for Brighton and Hove.
Mr Russell-Moyle, a left-winger and strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was elected to Parliament in 2017, winning with a 20 per cent majority.
‘The shadow cabinet have all been very supportive but we are a good collegiate family when the chips are down so I wouldn’t expect anything less from Labour colleagues,’ he added.
Mr Russell-Moyle said he had spoken to Lord Smith – the only other politician who revealed their status while an MP – about his decision to go public.
He added: ‘He ended up coming out when he knew he was standing down.
‘I guess the difference is now that I’m hoping not to stand down, I’m hoping that I’ll win the next election.’
On the stigma surrounding HIV, the MP said: ‘Of course there are low-level elements of stigma in everyday life, in terms of just lack of knowledge, people reacting with gut reaction.
‘Those 1980s campaigns play heavy in a lot of people’s minds that this is some sort of death sentence.’
He added: ‘In some ways I’m incredibly lucky, I’m a white gay man in a very liberal open city, and so out of all of the groups of people I will probably fare one of the better.
‘If you are not in that same category, if you live in a rural area, if you find it difficult to access services, if you are black or older or a woman then those things mean your stigma is much higher so it’s much harder to talk about it.
‘Talking about that is really important.’
MPs listened on in silence as he revealed his diagnosis in the Commons today (pictured)
Politicians and campaigners all praised the Labour MP for having the bravery to speak about his condition.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘Lloyd has shown enormous courage today. I know the whole Labour Party is proud of him.
‘His dignity and hope will inspire people across the country and around the world – those with HIV, and also those of us who will always stand together with them.
What is the HIV virus?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus.
While AIDS can’t be transmitted from one person to another, the HIV virus can.
There’s currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
With an early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV won’t develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan.
Source: NHS England
‘Thanks to activists and campaigners, from Act Up to parliamentarians like Lloyd and Chris Smith, stigma against people with HIV is gradually lessening.
‘And people who are HIV Positive and have access to treatment can now be sure that they will remain healthy and that their partners are protected.
‘But we must remain vigilant against prejudice, and we must fight for everyone to have access to effective treatment.
‘Lloyd’s bravery represents the very best of Labour. This World Aids Day I will be proud to wear the red ribbon in solidarity and respect.’
Ian Green, Terrence Higgins Trust CEO, said: ‘We’re extremely grateful to Lloyd, and his decision to use his platform to help us work toward zero HIV stigma and zero HIV transmissions in the UK.
‘It is so important for people living with HIV to be better represented across public and political spheres, and as a serving MP to be openly living with the virus, Lloyd is already impacting positive change.
‘People diagnosed with HIV today can live long, healthy lives like anybody else, and Lloyd proves this.
‘However, we still have lots to do before we can end HIV transmissions in the UK and combat the discrimination that many people living with the virus face.
‘Lloyd is already contributing to this work and for this, we’d like to say a huge thank to you him.
‘We’re extremely proud to call Lloyd a friend and look forward to continuing to work together to end new HIV infections and stigma and ensure everyone living with HIV in the UK is supported to thrive.’