A Labour MP today revealed he is HIV positive live during a debate in the Commons – telling how he has been on a decade-long journey from ‘fear to advocacy’.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, 32, spoke movingly about his diagnosis in a debate to mark World Aids Day.
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 in the Commons Chamber after he gave his moving speech.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle spoke movingly about his diagnosis in a debate to mark World Aids Day.
MPs across the political divide sat in a rare silence as Mr Russell-Moyle told of his experience of living with the virus.
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 the second MP to ever announce he has HIV as a member of Parliament.
Wearing the red ribbon of World Aids Day, Mr Russell-Moyle told how he first feared it was a ‘joke’ when he received the call from the clinic a decade ago.
‘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.’
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’.
He said he felt ‘relieved’ to announce that 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.
Charity praises Labour MP Lloyd Russle-Moyle for revealing his HIV status in Commons
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle has ‘done everybody a service’ by disclosing his HIV status, a charity has said.
Revealing that he is the only current sitting MP with the virus ‘does a lot to normalise HIV in the public’s mind’, said Ian Green, chief executive of the sexual health charity the Terrance Higgins Trust.
He said when public figures talk about their views or experiences with HIV, it ‘does a huge amount’ to tackle the stigma associated with the virus.
He also praised the Duke of Sussex, who has done much work with HIV and Aids charities.
Earlier this month, Harry called for HIV testing to be seen as ‘completely normal and accessible’ in a video marking National HIV Testing Week.
The prince said people should not be ashamed or embarrassed about taking a test, and instead should treat it in the same way as people protect against ‘viruses like cold and flu’.
Mr Green said: ‘When Prince Harry publicly speaks about taking an HIV test, or last week helped us launch HIV testing week, or when he talks publicly about HIV being nothing to be feared, that does a huge amount to tackle the stigma associated with HIV.
‘When public figures talk about their own views or experiences that goes a long way to deal with the issue.’
On Mr Russell-Moyle, he added: ‘I think he’s done everybody a service about talking about his own personal journey with HIV.
‘I have had a couple of conversations with him and he’s aware that because he’s a Member of Parliament there is going to be a spotlight on him talking about his HIV diagnosis.
‘I think it will go a long way to say that he’s very successful, he’s a Member of Parliament, he has no issue in terms of representing his constituency as somebody living with HIV. So that does a lot to normalise HIV in the public’s mind.
‘I think he has taken a very important decision for him, and from talking to him I know the reason he wants to do this is because he wants to tackle the stigma associated with HIV head on.’
The Terrance Higgins Trust is running a ‘Zero HIV’ campaign to mark World Aids Day, with the aim of ending new cases of HIV and eliminating stigma surrounding the illness.
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.
The MP, who was elected to his seat in 2017, said 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, who made the announcement during a debate he initiated in the the House of Commons about HIV and World Aids Day, 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 by the Press Association 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.
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
‘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.
MPs listened on in silence as he revealed his diagnosis in the Commons today (pictured)
‘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.’
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.’