Friday, 20 November 2015

Charlie Sheen: Commentary from Australian HIV advocates

On 17 November the news broke that actor Charlie Sheen was about to do an interview in which he would disclose that he had HIV. 

On 18 November this rumour was confirmed, with Sheen announcing that he had been living with HIV since 2011, had an undetectable viral load, and had been blackmailed to the tune of millions of dollars by people to whom he’d disclosed.

Social and online media exploded, and concern about the potentially stigmatising impact on people with HIV was uppermost in the minds of HIV advocates around the world. Organisations such as AFAO and our members rapidly put out media statements or circulated information to encourage the media to report sensitively.

On the positive side, the media circus provided an opportunity to raise awareness about HIV and publicise accurate information to counter the decades-old myths that still circulate.

This blog post links to Australian community media and HIV sector responses to Charlie Sheen’s disclosure.

If you have links to other useful Australian stories commenting on Charlie Sheen, please post them in the comments.

Media advice

The HIV Media Guide

AFAO’s Media Guide provides information about the Australian epidemic and tips for accurate and sensitive reporting on HIV.

Media beware: How to avoid stigma when reporting on HIV 

The Star Observer’s quick guide to avoiding stigmatising media coverage.

Media releases

National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) 

Charlie Sheen: "I'm HIV-positive"

NAPWHA congratulates Sheen on his disclosure, with the hope that it will help raise more awareness about HIV and thus combat stigma:

‘We believe that Mr Sheen’s disclosure needs to be embraced and accepted globally, without sensationalising the disclosure and potentially stigmatising people living with HIV or those at high risk of viral acquisition.’

VAC/Living Positive Victoria

VAC and Living Positive Victoria call for sensitive, accurate reporting following news of Charlie Sheen’s expected HIV disclosure

Simon Ruth (VAC CEO) and Brent Allan (LPV CEO) applaud Sheens disclosure and call on the media to be thoughtful in their reporting.

‘….when [Sheen] and others are shamed and represented as either victims or perpetrators, any benefit from his disclosure is nullified.’

Simon Ruth also provided clarification on Sheen’s comment that the virus was ‘undetectable’.

The VAC/LPV media release was quoted in several media outlets including Gay News Network, MamaMia and SameSame, and Brent also did some radio interviews with ABC Drive (Melbourne).


Rob Lake (AFAO)

Sheen HIV revelation could reduce stigma

Our Executive Director Rob Lake was interviewed by AAP, which was syndicated to other outlets, including The Australian and the NT News.

Rob said that he hoped Sheen’s disclosure would raise more awareness of HIV, particularly among heterosexual people, talked about the impact of stigma on disclosure, and commented that the language used around sex workers was ‘unfortunate’:

'In Australia particularly, sex workers are the least likely way to get HIV because for them sexual health is a really important part of their job - involving safe sex and getting regular tests.'

Rob was interviewed on ABC RN and also the Hobart radio Morning show with Leon Compton (link expires soon).

Rob Lake

Charlie Sheen's revelation seen by awareness groups as beginning of the end for anti-HIV attitude

'... we're not talking about telling your family or telling your friends or stuff like that. We're talking about telling the world.'

In the same report, NAPWHA President Cipriano Martinez suggested Sheen's disclosure has started a positive discussion about stigma and criminalisation.

Chris Kelly

Chris is the editor of NAPHWA publication Positive Living.

Think living with HIV is shameful? Time to check your facts

Chris addresses HIV-related stigma and shame, and spells out some facts about HIV:

'Sheen did not “cover-up” anything: he chose not to disclose. Celebrity or not, a person’s HIV status is a personal matter. A person living with HIV has every right to privacy. Sheen’s diagnosis is none of our business.'

Christabel and Sarah 

Two young women living with HIV (from Positive Women Victoria) talk about their response to Charlie Sheen’s HIV disclosure, stigma, PrEP, and much more.

Paul Kidd

HIV/HCV activist, Chair of the Victorian HIV Legal Working Group.

Comment: Reaction to Charlie Sheen's HIV status shows stigma is rife

Paul writes about the impact of Sheen’s disclosure, and the associated media storm, on people living with HIV. He also addresses the inaccuracies in early reporting about Sheen.

‘When a famous person comes out as HIV-positive, the story is not just about them, and it’s not just about HIV. For the community of HIV-positive people, it’s inevitably a story about us.’

The catch-22 of disclosing your HIV status

Paul explains why many HIV-positive people are wary of disclosing their status.

‘While few of us make such a lucrative target for blackmail as a Hollywood star, Sheen’s story of disclosure followed by betrayal echoes an experience that is all too common to people with HIV.’

The HIV Stigma (Podcast)

Paul discusses stigma with 2SER radio.

Paul also did radio interviews with KIIS FM and JOY FM, but no links are available.

Nic Holas

Writer, HIV activist and co-founder, The Institute of Many (TIM)

Charlie Sheen is HIV-positive. Checkup’s editorial position: take care

Nic acknowledges the impact of Sheen’s disclosure and associated stigmatising social and news media commentary, provides suggestions for self-care during this time, and corrects some of the myths around HIV.

‘If you are in the position to do so, call out that misinformation, bias and stigma when you see it but only when it feels safe to do so. Think twice before joining the fray of an internet discussion.’

Charlie Sheen is just another person who is HIV-positive, but he's a privileged one

Nic puts Sheen’s experience of HIV in a global context, highlighting barriers to treatments access and human rights abuse.

‘Spare a thought for the 24 million people who cannot access the life-saving treatments he and I both take every day. More than one million of these people will die this year of AIDS-related causes, deaths that since 1996 have been completely unnecessary...'

The ABCs of HIV: How to get the language right when talking about Charlie Sheen 

Nic goes through some of the ‘need-to-knows’ when talking about HIV.

‘As with any marginalised community, how everyone talks about HIV in the aftermath of this news has a significant bearing on the mental health and wellbeing of people like me who live with it.’ 

Nic also did a radio interviews with KIIS FM, but no link is available.

Nic Holas and Chris Dimeglio

Nic, and Chris (PrEP Access Now) spoke to the TripleJ Hack program about HIV prevention, in the hope that Sheen’s disclosure may provide impetus for making pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available in Australia.

Jennifer Powers

Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS)

Jennifer Powers describes the history of HIV-related stigma, and how it still has a heavy impact on people living with HIV today:

‘If nothing else, the focus on Sheen creates an important opportunity for renewed public discussion and reflection on how we as a community can engender greater awareness and respect for people living with HIV.’

New Zealand

Shaun Robinson on Paul Henry

Our friends on the other side of the Tasman were also busy responding. Shaun is CEO of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, which is an affiliate member of AFAO.

Like many commentators Shaun leveraged Sheen’s announcement to talk about stigma, disclosure, and the changed experience of living with HIV in the age of effective treatments in his TV interview on the Paul Henry show.

View interview (Facebook)


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