While HIV as a death sentence is very much a thing of the past for people living with the virus, the stigma surrounding it sadly remains very much part of our present.
To help break the silence, London activist George Hankers decided to take to the streets for a video project in support of those living with HIV.
Hankers himself was diagnosed as HIV positive at 19. Now 22 and working with the London and New York-based advocacy group Shape History, he’s trying to make a difference.
He decided to stand blindfolded in London’s Trafalgar Square holding a whiteboard reading ‘I’M HIV+’, with passers-by having the choice to keep on walking, or to write messages of support for Hankers and others living with HIV – which included over 30,000 in London alone in 2014.
The social experiment was designed to see how ordinary Londoners would react to someone being open, honest and vulnerable about their HIV status.
Their reaction moved Hankers to tears.
George, who shares his experiences of living with HIV on his blog, Still Human, said the blindfold represented the sense of isolation he felt following his diagnosis, but that the reaction of passers-by showed that there was love and support for people living with HIV in the UK.
“Kindness can change the world,” and “You are me and I am you,” were some of the messages written on the whiteboard.
“When I was diagnosed with HIV, I battled with very low self esteem, and I’d been blinded from hope,” Hankers said in a press release. “The sense of unity I had after the experiment was very heartwarming – people would touch my hand or reach out and give me a hug. It really goes to show that there is more comfort out there for people living with HIV than we initially think.”