HIV: Not What It Was

Twenty years ago, a young London Parliamentarian stood with shaking hands to make the bravest speech of his life.

"My name is Chris Smith," he said, " and I am gay".

He was 33 then, and had been a Member of the British Parliament for just a year. As a man with a very slim majority, it was a bold move, but one which paid off. The audience applauded, the majority rose and he is still a Parliamentarian. It was an illustration that, sometimes in public life, honesty does pay.

But, for the last 17 of those 20 years, Chris Smith has had another secret. He is HIV-positive. He has not just managed to stay healthy over the past 17 years through a combination of drugs and diet, but has held a senior job in Tony Blair's Government - for four years he was a member of the British Cabinet. He did not tell Mr. Blair of his condition as it was not affecting his work. He has also managed to stay physically very active. He is what is known in Scotland as a 'Munro Bagger' - that is, he has climbed all the 277 Scottish mountains that are more than 3,000 feet high.

Chris Smith is living evidence that HIV no longer has to be a killer. It is a treatable condition. He says he spoke out on Sunday partly because he was inspired by Nelson Mandela who recently admitted that his own son had died of AIDS. Mandela said that HIV and AIDS should be treated by society as nothing more than illnesses; there should be no social stigma attached to them.

So, once again, Chris Smith has done us all a favour. Despite all the pious talk and public hand wringing of the politicians, AIDS is still taboo, just as homosexuality was, and still is, in many sections of our society. It takes a few brave souls like our Chris Smith and your Magic Johnson to break the taboo, to stand up and say: 'I am HIV-positive'. The fact that Magic Johnson is still reportedly in good health, the fact for seventeen years Chris Smith has been holding public office without any of us even noticing he is ill -- this is the final evidence that none of us have to be afraid of HIV. It is just an illness

By Peter Allen