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+TALK

+TALK: LUKE KELLY

Karl Schmid speaks with viral sensation Luke Kelly about what inspired him to disclose his HIV status.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Luke Kelly.

KARL

How the hit It’s A Sin helped this man share his status.

Welcome to +TALK on Plus Life, where we are all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today is in the UK, his name is Luke Kelly, and he kind of went viral not that long ago. After watching the hit HBO Max series It’s A Sin, it sparked something in him and inspired him to live his truth. So, Luke Kelly, welcome to +TALK, nice to see you, sir.

LUKE

Hello, thank you for having me!

KARL

Oh, it’s my pleasure. This is interesting, it’s great to have you on the show because I feel like in a way, we have a very similar story. We didn’t really have much of an intention to talk about our HIV status. When I disclosed publicly, I’d been HIV positive for 10 years, and sort of doing my thing like you, and then one day we just sort of decided to randomly share it. So tell me a bit about what inspired you to speak your truth out loud, and what’s the reaction been like?

LUKE

Yeah, so, I mean, I think I’m not really sure about how you went, but it had been 10 years, so I kind of just sort of, it’d become something that I’d accepted and it was just a way of life really. And I kind of thought I’d fully accepted it. So when I went to, when I watched It’s A Sin, I was very much like, “Oh, it’s going to be a tearjerker, “but I’m going to be able to handle it.” And actually when I watched it, it was just incredibly, incredibly emotional, and it stirred up a lot of feelings for me, which was like, it kind of really shook me. And I kind of then had to analyze that reaction. And just after, you know, like thinking, you know, analyzing it, I actually sort of thought, oh, there’s something not right there. Maybe I haven’t dealt with some of these emotions that, you know, have been with me for 10 years. And yeah, and then, so yeah, I basically decided to do like a little conversation with my friend, Connor, we did like an Instagram live. And it was just a case of like, “Okay, let’s talk about it, let’s unpack that.” And I felt like coming out about it in a public setting would be a good thing for my process. And yeah, and then we did it, and it was very nerve-wracking. It was a big deal. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was a big deal. It felt like I was, you know, coming out again. And, but then yeah, instantly it was like, an instant feedback of love and positivity. You know, it went kind of viral on the Internet and had so many or hundreds of messages of people who were positive, who people who weren’t positive who’ve just kind of resonated with my story. And we did like, a 45 minute video, and it was quite amazing that so many people watched it and watched the whole thing, you know?

KARL

Yeah, and I want to get on to how people have reacted in a minute, but were you doing Instagram live kind of things pre-this? Or was this just something you said to your mate, “Hey, let’s jump on and have a chat, “I want to talk about it?”

LUKE

Yeah, no, it was, I’ve never done one in my life before. So he, my friend Connor, he knew my status, and he mentioned it to me, the show. And he said, “Well, how did you find it?” And I said, “Oh, well, it was quite triggering.” And he said, “Oh yeah, I can imagine.” And he’s like, “Do you want to do an Instagram live?” And I just was like, “Do you know what? “Like, yes, I think that is something “that I think that would be good for my process.” And I think that, you know, if I can help other people in doing so then, great, you know? And like, it’s going-

KARL

Sorry, sorry, no, I was going to say it was interesting that you said it shouldn’t be a big deal. When I disclosed publicly, my boss the next day was on the phone with me, and she, you know, she said, “This shouldn’t be a news story. “This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is.” And that was three years ago. Does that shock you that in 2021, this is still a big deal?

LUKE

Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t shock me, because like, I think subconsciously, I had constantly been still living with the shame and the secrecy of it. But yeah, like, you know, realizing, after watching It’s A Sin, you know, it wasn’t just a triggering moment, when you know, when I was witnessing, like, one of the guys die in front of his parents, which was a really triggering moment for me because that’s what I relived when I was 21 when I was diagnosed. That’s the thing that I imagined. And when I saw it on screen, that was the thing that hit me hard. But it wasn’t just that moment, it was another moment in the show at the end where the character called Jill, she does a speech about shame and gay shame, and how HIV is kind of the, it’s almost like the just reward that gay people who grew up in a homophobic world, live their whole life in shame, and then they finally get HIV. And that’s kind of like the, you know, it’s almost like they deserved it. And that is something that I kind of had experienced, to be honest, and it was the reason why I was keeping it secret even 10 years after I was diagnosed. And I thought that I was okay with it. So yeah, actually unpacking all of that information and thinking, oh yeah, it’s 2021, I’m fine. You know, it’s been 10 years. Well, actually, no, why am I keeping it secret? And I think that really does boil down to this, down to the stigma and the shame. But then if you take that a layer further, it’s down to like, homophobia, which still exists. And yeah, so when I came out with HIV, you know, people still, it’s still a shocking thing, and yeah, it shouldn’t be, but it is.

KARL

Yeah, and it’s interesting. I think, you know, again, I see and sense the similarities between what you’ve gone through and what I went through, and I think what a lot of people go through. Like you for 10 years, I was like, “Oh yeah, I have dealt with it.” You know, I would make silly, I would make stupid jokes. So I would go, “Oh, you don’t want to date me, “I’m damaged goods,” kind of thing. And I thought I was being funny. And it wasn’t until I publicly spoke about it, that to your point, the internalized stigma that I didn’t even realize I had that was buried somewhere deep down in my subconscious. And I’m hearing sort of the same thing from you, this internalized stigma.

LUKE

Yeah, exactly. Exactly, yeah. I mean, it’s awful, really. And I just think actually having come out about it has been the most cathartic and freeing experience for me, because once you kind of release yourself of that secret, you kind of wear it as a badge of honor, almost. And now I’ve had so many amazing conversations with people all over the world, and like, conversations like I’m having with you right now. Which just, it just feels like finally I have nothing to hide, you know? Like I’m more authentic, I’m living more authentically as me, which is amazing, ’cause you know, you think as a gay person, you know, you kind of live in the shame and stigma and secrecy of being gay, and then finally, you come out. And in my case, within the same year, as I kind of started to tell people I was diagnosed with HIV, so I kinda went back in the closet, and I lived again in this other closet for 10 years. And yeah, so it’s nice that I am able to do that, but I understand that I’m privileged to be able to do that. And there is a lot of people who still are not able to have that, you know, to find that voice.

KARL

Well, so now that you’ve found this freedom within yourself, and this sort of acceptance. And you mentioned you really good point there. You know, you realize the position of privilege that you’re in because you’re right, there are so many people, the majority of people I think, feel that they can’t do what you’ve done, or what I’ve done, or what others do. So now that you’ve sort of found this inner voice and this sort of regain of confidence, I guess, what are you planning to do with all of this? Or do you plan to like, you’ve got it out there, that’s it, and life goes on and that’s how it works?

LUKE

Well, I think obviously I never intended for any of the like, attention that I got. I genuinely thought that for me, it was like, it certainly was like an aha moment when I watched It’s A Sin. I was like, I feel like I need to actually talk, tell people about this in a public way. And so I was sort of selfishly doing it for my process, but as a result of that, a lot of people found that to be, you know, it was educational, the video.

KARL

Yeah, no, and, and listen, I get it, because it all sort of happens. And like you, I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t think anyone would really give a , quite frankly. I thought friends on social media would see it. I had no idea that it would go viral and that it would, you know? But thank God, because it’s led me to where I am today, on Plus Life and getting to meet people like you. So, sorry.

LUKE

And that no, it’s come back to me. ‘Cause I think that is essentially, now the kind of spotlight has been shone on me, I’m very happy to continue that conversation in, you know, in any capacity, really. So even if that is just, you know, if that is just with friends, you know, on a one-to-one, or whether that’s again on Instagram, or for example with yourself. And I’m really happy because I know that just, all it needs is people to be talking and seeing people like you, yourself and me who, you know, who are quite happily healthy and living with HIV, is everything that would help end the stigma, really.

KARL

Yeah, well, and messaging like U=U, what did you know? Did you know much about U=U? When did that come into your orbit?

LUKE

Well, when I was diagnosed in 2011, so that wasn’t-

KARL

It wasn’t around. Yeah, it wasn’t really around, they didn’t make it sort of scientifically official until 2018.

LUKE

Yeah, that’s right. So even when I was diagnosed medication, because U=U wasn’t a thing, the Medicaid, they didn’t even advise that you got on medication straight away because I feel like the advances in the technology in the medication hadn’t really caught up with the advice that the doctors would give. So they, the doctors were still giving advice as if the medication was still a little bit more primitive, like back in its prevention stages. So they would like to know, as long as you can be strong.

KARL

As long as you see the fall counter’s up. I have the same thing, the UK doctors were saying to me, “Oh, you don’t need to start meds until your CD4 “and viral loads get to a certain level.” Then when I moved here to the United States, I had a doctor, a horrible experience with a doctor at a very well-regarded clinic here in Los Angeles for LGBTQ+ people, in front of a room full of people, yell at me and tell me I was playing Russian Roulette with my life, and how dare I be so selfish to not be on meds?

LUKE

Yeah, I know. It’s just like, a completely different perspective. But when you’ve only been fed one perspective, and especially as a 21 year old who knew nothing about this, I mean, that’s another conversation. But I was very ignorant to everything. And when you have a doctor, a professional telling you, no, it’s, it’s good to try and keep it off the medication as long as you can, then suddenly that becomes your goal.

KARL

 Right?

LUKE

I can fight this as long I can.

KARL

I’m going to stop drinking and stop partying. That lasted about two weeks for me. Luke, thank you so much for your time. Ah, I could speak to him for hours, but unfortunately we don’t have the time. That is it for today’s episode of +TALK. If you wanna watch it again, or find a little bit more out about Luke, go to our website, PlusLifeMedia.com, and remember to follow us across all social media platforms. We are @PlusLifeMedia. Until next time, wash your hands, stay safe, we’ll see you soon.

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