Press Release: Lesbian HIV campaigner speaks in Croydon
8 February 2012
Lisa Power, long-term activist for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, spoke to a packed audience last night (7 February 2012) at the Spread Eagle, Katharine Street, Croydon. Lisa Power is currently Policy Director of the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) the leading HIV and AIDS charity, but her talk covered many other aspects of her career. The meeting was organised by Croydon Area Gay Society (CAGS) as part of LGBT History Month, February 2012.
Lisa Power began by saying that she had lived in Croydon during her school days. Her earliest claim to fame was sleeping in a bed that had belonged to the gay song-writer Ivor Novello. During her time in Croydon she found it impossible to come out as lesbian, but Croydon has changed a great deal since then; if there had been something like CAGS around at the time her life would have been very different.
When moving to London after university, she was shocked to find that gay men and lesbians didn’t tend to mix. She became a volunteer at the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard just after a lot of the lesbian volunteers has walked out. Working at Switchboard was a very educational experience. At the time she joined Switchboard, many of the calls were about AIDS, and the volunteers made a practice of urging safer sex on their callers, even if they were calling merely for general information.
The introduction in 1988 of the anti-gay legislation “Section 28” showed that the LGBT community didn’t know how to deal with this challenge. There were some dramatic protests, such as lesbians abseiling into parliament, but the community’s response in general was a shambles: a lot of gay people refused to talk to Conservatives or to the police. Lisa, together with Sir Ian McKellen and others, set up Stonewall with the aim of campaigning more effectively in the future, and made a point of always involving both gay men and lesbians.
During the 1990s, Lisa became involved with ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) and ended up speaking on ILGA’s behalf at the United Nations: the most terrifying experience of her life. She met with a variety of reactions: the Iraqi ambassador hid when she came on, the Sudanese ambassador called her “an abomination”, and another representative said “there are no gay people in my country”.
Talking about her current job with THT, Lisa commented that there have been enormous advances over the last 30 years in the treatment of HIV, so that people who have been infected can expect to live a normal lifespan. But HIV is still a very serious condition, and it’s still vitally important to practice safer sex. A downside to the medical advances is that it’s now possible to hide away and not admit you’re HIV positive, which has led to a lot of people feeling isolated. This year the number of HIV positive people in the UK is expected to top 100,000, but the amount of money available to THT and similar charities is being reduced.This makes it all the more important for people with HIV to support each other, so THT have now launched a new service “My HIV” to enable people to share experiences and mutual support.
Concluding, Lisa Power said that in many ways life for LGBT people has become much better in this country, and many younger people don’t remember the bad old days. But there’s always the danger that the gains we’ve achieved could be reversed. Most people are not really either good or bad, but will go with the majority; we need to beware of fundamentalist groups seeking to change the climate of opinion away from acceptance of LGBT people: the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
For more information about CAGS, see www.cags.org.uk.
For more about The Brief Encounter, CAGS' programmme of bi-monthly open meetings, see www.cags.org.uk/brief.shtml.
For more about LGBT History Month events in Croydon, see http://www.lgbt-croydon.org.uk/croydon-lgbthm-events
For more about Lisa Power and the Terrence Higgins Trust, see http://www.tht.org.uk/mediacentre/spokespeople/lisapower/
For the "My HIV" project see http://www.myhiv.org.uk/
This press release is also available at www.cags.org.uk/pressrel-2012-02.htm.