Florence Obadeyi has been sharing her story of living with HIV for over two years. Through our Positive Voices programme, she has spoken in schools, colleges and workplaces, helping to challenge misinformation about HIV and break down the stigma that still surrounds the virus.
We caught up with Florence to find out why being involved with Positive Voices has been so important to her.
I first heard about Positive Voices at an HIV conference. I immediately decided I'd like to get involved and be a positive voice for people living with HIV.
I applied to be a Positive Voices volunteer, sending in an application form and two references. I was then invited for an informal interview. When I was accepted onto the programme, I attended a volunteer induction and safeguarding training to help me to prepare to deliver talks. I was also able to shadow talks to get an idea of what the programme was like.
For over two years I've been giving these talks myself, in schools, community groups, companies and health care organisations. One of the highlights is going into schools and giving talks to teenagers as they are full of questions and very surprised at my story.
I've done a lot of talks with other HIV organisations but the Positive Voices programme gives a lot of support and training to people to help them prepare for giving talks. I recently attended a two-day storytelling workshop where I learned better ways of telling my story. I feel more confident since the training and feel I now have better skills to tailor my story to meet the needs of an audience.
Being involved in Positive Voices means a lot to me. When I give talks, I see it as an opportunity to educate people, especially children, as they are the next generation. By telling children that I live with HIV and have a normal life, that I am married, have a child, have a job and I am fit and healthy, it means I can help reduce the stigma people face when living with HIV.
Nearly half of UK adults still think HIV can be passed on from kissing and over a third would feel uncomfortable going on a date with someone living with HIV. That’s why challenging this stigma is so important.
Also, I'm very keen to emphasise the U=U message that undetectable equals untransmittable. This is an important message because there are a lot of myths surrounding HIV and transmission. U=U educates people that if a person living with HIV is on effective medication, they can’t pass it on. This helps reduce the fear and stigma that an HIV diagnosis can result in.
As a bisexual woman, I'm passionate about ensuring the LGBT community – which continues to be impacted by high rates of new HIV diagnoses – knows about the big success stories we’ve seen in HIV treatment and support. I find talking to these groups empowering and rewarding.
I’d recommend for anyone who is living with HIV and wants to share their story to get involved with Positive Voices. Every time school pupils, students and workplaces hear about the facts of HIV, we help to break stigma and improve the lives of everyone affected by HIV.