To know a little about the reality of those who are HIV positive and, inclusive, about the expectations with the discoveries made by the researchers from the Federal University of State of São Paulo (Unifesp) – see the article – we talked with Felipe Fernandes, 25, a telemarketing operator and a History and Nursing university student, who has been a PSTU member for six years.
By Wilson Honório da Silva, from PSTU Political Education Secretariat – 14/07/2020
Felipe, born in Volta Redonda (RJ), lives in Natal (RN), with his partner, and is, also, an activist in a LGBTI+ group called “Auroras for Revolution Collective” and in the LGBTI+ National Caucus of CSP-Conlutas (Labour´s and People´s Federation – National Coordination of Struggles).
Felipe, please, tell us a little about when and how you found out being HIV positive.
Look, it was around 2017. I was sick, coughing, losing weight, vomiting, with high fever. My cousin suspected and asked me to take the test. I accepted. I already belonged to PSTU at that time. I talked with a PSTU leader and she also supported me to take the test. One afternoon, I went to a Health Basic Unit (UBS), in Volta Redonda. The nurse and the whole crew were very and with me. And then, she said: “So…the result of your test is positive and I’ll address you to the Infectious Diseases Center (CDI)”.
It was a shock, for sure…
For sure…Coincidentally, on the same day, I had already a religious commitment in my ‘candomblé’ house, because there would be a session at that night. And I say that with proud, because we know that religions from Afro, Afro-Brazilian or Afro-Indigenous matrices suffer a lot of prejudice and attacks every day, despite being exemplary in sheltering people. I arrived there in tears and they asked me what the matter was and I answered that I got the HIV, that the test’s result was positive. They didn’t judge me. Sheltered and supported me. Later, I went to the same party’s leader. She didn’t know about the result yet. I arrived normally, calm, sat at the table with her and I said “my friend, I got the HIV”. She was shocked, cried. But, she comforted me, didn’t judge me and super supported me. In the family, unfortunately, it wasn’t like that…Some family members, on my father’s side, said it was God’s punishment.
And yet considering that you are a young gay, we can imagine that the problems weren’t restricted to the family…
First, many people judged me, saying I was promiscuous. My serology was revealed by a woman that belonged to my grandfather’s church and worked where I was under treatment. She talked to everyone at the church that I got the HIV. When people met me on the street they told me that they heard I got “Aids”. And, afterwards, at a job interview, they asked me if I had any pre-existing disease. I said “yes, I was seropositive”. Then they said they were afraid of hiring me and got sick at work.
But, unfortunately, the situation is not easy at all even in a LGBT community. After the discovery, at an affective scope, I suffered a lot of serophobia [discrimination, marginalization and prejudice in relation to people called seropositive]. People are very serophobic. And very badly informed. They move away, afraid of getting the virus by a simple hug.
On July 7th, researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) divulged the results from a study considered very promising, as one of the patients entered in a “remission” process. How did you react to this news?
I got very happy, because it’s an advance in Science and shows the importance of investing in research, education and health. And even more, because this research was developed in a public university, that suffers so many attacks from Jair Bolsonaro’s government. I have expectations that these tests keep on getting positive results.
I’d like that all this knowledge produced would be reverted to our class’s needs. But I don’t have much illusion. Only in a socialist society this will be possible, in fact, as the pharmaceutical industry is one of the pillars of capitalism. Evidence is that, today, even with all available medicines, only around 25 million, from the more than 40 million people living with HIV in the world, have access to treatment.
Coincidentally, the annoucement was made on the same day of the 30th anniversary of Cazuza’s death who, unfortunately became a symbol of the enormous prejudice, in the 80’s, when Aids epidemy gained the newspaper headlines as “the gay plague”.
How is that today, considering, that since 2014, there is an article in the Constitution that defines the discrimination against HIV porters as a crime?
Until today we suffer serophobia because the bourgeois media, the religious fundamentalist institutions and the allies of the bourgeoisie still reinforce that HIV is a “gay cancer” and that the disease is only spreaded in or by the LGBTI+ community. A law won’t guarantee the extinction of this prejudice, as the Judiciary is not at our class’s service, therefore we must get organized and struggle for our democratic demands.
For instance, after decades of struggles, the Supreme Court overturned a criminal norm that did not allow gay men to donate blood. First, it wasn’t a “gift” from the STF (Federal Supreme Court). And more: we know very well that nothing guarantees that the hemocenters, mainly the ones from the private network, won’t keep on creating restrictions.
You are part of a generation who grew up having access to the medicines and treatments guaranteed by the STD and AIDS National Program and offered by SUS (Unified Health System). How has your experience been with these services? Were there any changes with Bolsonaro’s in power?
The treatment is a victory for our generation, who can get free medication. However, the workers’health is not a priority for the capitalist system. There is a lack of investment in this social area. Bolsonaro only deepens the dismantling of SUS. Besides that, the government helps to reinforce prejudices against seropositive people. One example of this is his policies in relation to HIV/Aids in Brazil. He downgraded the Department of HIV/Aids into a Secretary and, as if that wasn’t enough, he stated, in February, that we are “an expense for the country”. Another example that he is not more than a genocide.
A fundamental “expense” to preserve the life of hundreds of thousands, right?
Exactly. In Brazil, every year, 40,000 new cases of HIV contamination are detected. And it’s calculated that from 900,000 Brazilians with HIV, only 766,000 were diagnosed and only 594,000 go under treatment with antiretroviral. I, fortunately, started the treatment as soon as I discovered my serology. I take Tenofovir + Lamivudine and Dolutegravir. In my case, it was easy to have access to the treatment, but there are cities where there is a lack of medication. I have a friend in Manaus [capital of Amazonas, a state in the North of Brazil], for example, who doesn’t have access to the medicines.
As a LGBTI+ militant, tell us a little about how the history of the movement was affected by the advent of the epidemy and how it influenced the advances that we got in the access to the treatment.
All the advances we have until today are due to a lot of struggle. Many LGBTs and people from other sectors of the society also seropositive fought and died for us to be here today. Some of the advances that we have are coming from the Supreme Federal Court, as I already said, but we can’t nourish hopes in this institution. On the other hand, we know that many LGBTs entities when putting themselves in the fire line during the prevention campaigns, in the 80’s, let themselves being co-opted by governamental and private institutions. A problem that reflects until today.
HIV/Aids is still a taboo for the majority of the Brazilians. How is that in the movements? Is there anything you would like to say to those one who are social and political militants like yourself?
The discussion about HIV/Aids should be strengthened in the movements. It’ something to be discussed, also, by all revolutionary militants struggling against any form of oppression, inclusive serohobia. And it’s necessary to move forward in this debate. People, inclusive our comrades, still confuse HIV with Aids. We have to deconstruct the stereotype that the LGBTI+ are the only people who can get the virus. Besides, we should align the debate against the oppression with the class struggle.
It’s necessary that everybody gets better informed. Living with HIV IS NOT the same as having Aids. Using antiretrovirals correctly, we have a normal life, with a non-detected viral load, we don’t transmit the virus, and fortify our CD4 (cells from the immune system, the lymphotocytes, capable to combat infectious agents) and don’t develop Aids. The medication is what keep us alive.
What does it mean to you being a carrier of HIV and a militant for the socialist revolution?
Being a carrier of HIV motivates me even more to struggle for the socialist revolution. Including, also, the combat against the oppressions and the serophobia, because, as we always discuss in PSTU, the struggle against any kind of opression should be done side by side with the struggles of our class. People still die for not having access to the treatment and finish developing the most advanced stage of the virus, the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Aids) and, with the immune system weakened, can get opportunistic diseases and die.
Living with HIV doesn’t prevent me to be equal to the others. It’s important we struggle for the strengthening of the SUS and prevention policies and combat against HIV/Aids and against every form of oppression. And more: strengthen the struggles against this system that oppresses us, exploits us and kills us. It’s important we reinforce the construction of a new society, a socialist society.
 Cazuza was a very popular gay composer and singer in the 1980´s, who died in consequence of Aids related diseases on July 7h, 1990, when he was 32 years old.