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Positive makes its debut on Sky Documentaries on December 1, which is World AIDS Day. The original series includes intimate and personal discussions with HIV patients and those who offered their support. Jonathan Blake and Lisa Power spoke to Express.co.uk about the fear faced by the community in the early days of HIV.
The three-part Positive series tracks the history of prejudice and lack of knowledge in Britain when HIV was first discovered.
Starting with the first recorded case in 1981, each episode explains how society has become more accepting of sexual and gender choices.
But there is still a long way to go when it comes to encouraging people to test for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and speak openly about their sexual relationships.
Jonathan Blake, 71, was diagnosed with the virus in 1982 and he is one of the longest-living people in the UK with HIV.
Speaking to Express.co.uk about his shocking diagnosis, he said: “I began to develop every single lymph node in my body, every single gland began to erupt.
“I was living in the East End and made an appointment to go and see my GP.”
Being in his early 30s at the time, his doctor advised him to go to a specialist clinic.
Jonathan continued: “I arrived and suddenly they were all over me, they had never seen someone who said every single lymph node so enlarged.
“They wanted to do a biopsy and in those days if you were queer, you were put in side wards.
“They didn’t want homosexuality to infect the wards.” The actor and restaurant worker was in hospital for two days before receiving some shocking news.
He added: “They did the biopsy and came back and said ‘It’s a terminal diagnosis and we have no medicines that can help’.
“‘There will, of course, be palliative care when the time comes’, and I’m 33. It’s not something you expect to hear.”
Jonathan said he felt “totally and utterly winded” after his diagnosis and sank into a deep depression.
He continued: “I remember going to one of the gay bars, I wanted to be with people. I needed to be with people.
“I would hang in the corner in the dark sending out all those vibes, ‘don’t come near me’.”
It was not until he came across an advert in a paper for a “march for gays for a nuclear-free future” that he found hope again.
In the early 80s there had been a number of anti-nuclear demonstrations in London, protesting against the use of nuclear weapons.
Jonathan said: “I thought OK, that’s going to be my re-entry into society… It completely turned my whole life around.”
Speaking about whether the stigma is still as prevalent today, he said: “The stigma has changed.
“There was so much misinformation and the British are not very good around sex, they kind of close down and just don’t get it.
“And so there was this absolute attack on homosexuals, we were spreading this deadly disease and that was hard to bear.
“Now there is much more information. If your viral load gets to undetectable you cannot pass the virus on and what that does is extraordinary.
“Whatever happens you can no longer infect someone and I think that message is beginning to get out to the rest of the world.”
Speaking about what changes still need to be made, he referred to a popular Channel 4 series called It’s A Sin. He said: “I think the most important thing is for people to test.
“When It’s A Sin came out the number of people testing just went up phenomenally.”
It’s A Sin received critical acclaim as it accurately and sympathetically highlights how people like Jonathan dealt with their diagnosis.
Lisa Power, who also features in the Positive documentary, was the historical adviser on the series and she worked on the gay and lesbian switchboard in the early 80s.
She said: “In the very early days on the switchboard it was a combination of very worried, mostly gay men who had heard about [HIV] through friends and from America.
“The 24-hour helpline that we were used to going quiet at night, suddenly it was literally every time you put the phone down it rang again.
“I remember one old lady who was really worried that if her cat bit a gay man it might get AIDS.
“So there was a lot of giving people very basic information about what we knew, and of course we were scrambling to keep up all the time as well.
“Doctors caught on very quickly that the gay switchboard was one of the good places to get information out to people who were most at risk.
“It was almost like we made up stories to cover the gaps in our knowledge, so there were a lot of people who thought it was all due to Poppers, which was a type of drug.
“There were people who said if you had a lot of sexually transmitted infections it would have ruined your immune system.
“There were even people as we started to get good treatments making up conspiracy theories about the treatments causing it.”
These conspiracies were highlighted in the It’s A Sin series and Lisa provided crucial insight.
She said: “It was incredibly accurate, the kind of things people went through and the fears people had. When they found out they had HIV they were terrified and they kept it a secret.
“Often they went into denial about it. People were terrified to the point they couldn’t own up to it, even to themselves.”
She said a lot of the stigma has been carried over to this day, despite the fact preventative drugs are available.
Lisa felt better education for young people was needed when it came to talking about sex in schools.
She said: “There are still lots of prejudices around sexual relationships and education in schools but really that’s where kids need to learn to respect themselves and to respect each other and to avoid things like HIV.
“They can’t do that if they don’t get told how to do it. We have to bite the bullet about that, you can’t pretend kids don’t find out about those things.”
Positive airs on Sky Documentaries from December 1.
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