Labour MP reveals HIV diagnosis in emotional speech
A Labour MP has revealed he is HIV positive in an emotional speech to the House of Commons.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, is the only current sitting MP to disclose he is living with the virus.
Surrounded by Labour colleagues, including Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Russell-Moyle spoke passionately about his diagnosis and the reasons he decided to reveal his HIV status.
He is the second MP to ever announce he has HIV as a member of parliament.
In an interview with the Press Association, Mr Russell-Moyle said he 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”.
He said he felt “relieved” to announce he is living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which damages the cells in the immune system and weakens a person’s ability to fight infections and disease.
There is currently no cure but effective treatments allow most HIV positive people to live a long and healthy life.
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.
The shadow cabinet “had been very supportive”, Mr Russell-Moyle added.
He made the announcement during a debate he initiated in the the House of Commons about HIV and World Aids Day.
As it ended, Labour MPs gave him a standing ovation – breaking with House of Commons convention.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn intervened in the debate to praise a “brilliant and historic speech”.
The MP, who was elected to his seat in 2017, told the Press Association he chose the timing of the revelation to mark the 30th World Aids Day on December 1.
It is also a decade since he was infected with the virus.
Mr Russell-Moyle said he discovered he was living with the virus after routine tests.
Finding out he had HIV was a “real shock” but it was “not the end of the world, even though it might feel like that for a few seconds”, he added.
He said in some ways he felt “lucky” because other people with the virus can face more stigma than a “white gay man in a very liberal open city” – such as people living in rural areas, black people, women or older people.
Asked why he had decided to reveal his status, Mr Russell-Moyle 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: “Of course it was a shock, however much you prepare yourself, you get that call and you are told ‘Please come in, we can’t tell you something over the phone’, so you know something is wrong.
“Suddenly it hits you like a wall and loads of things are running through your mind.
“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.
“My feeling now is an element of relief that it’s over and done with and we’ll see where the next few days take us – I hope it will take us in a positive direction.”
He said fellow MPs had been “really positive” and shown support.
“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 about his decision to reveal his status, adding: “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.
“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.”