blog 231201 inclusion respect equity

Good evening. My name is Melissa. I am a heterosexual woman of colour. I’m a mum, a daughter, a sibling, a friend, a manager and I’ve lived with HIV for nine years.  I am also a speaker with the Positive Life, Positive Speakers Bureau and on the Board at Positive Life NSW and faithful member for the last four years.

Tonight, I want to share some of my thoughts about World AIDS Day and what this day means to me with all you beautiful people here tonight.

The 2023 Australian World AIDS Day theme is Inclusion. Respect. Equity. and I would like to share with you what each of these words mean to me.

Inclusion, respect, and equity are fundamental principles in addressing HIV/AIDS. They are words that also are used loosely and there may not always be emotions or thoughts behind these words by people when they talk to us as people living with HIV. By incorporating these themes into World AIDS Day, the focus can be placed on ensuring that all people, regardless of our background or circumstances, are seen as equal and treated with respect, are included and accorded equity.

I will start with INCLUSION

When I think about this word, I automatically think about including someone, making people feel welcomed, not leaving anyone behind and that’s all actions I must say, I feel are words that are used loosely for people living with HIV.  It’s a word people try to portray but don’t practice when they interact with someone living with HIV. I am specifically speaking about health professionals that have made me feel like I was not included. I’ve also experienced this when dating.

Discrimination is a way to not include people and I have experienced this far too many times.

I am so glad that at Positive Life NSW, they have built a culture of inclusiveness. They have created a safe space for me to be myself, and they are what I call “my people”. The bonus about interacting with people who attend Positive Life events and staff at Positive Life, is that they live and breathe this word: INCLUSION.

Having HIV is not a one size fits all.

At Positive Life NSW, I have been treated with respect, treated equally and I have felt a sense of inclusion. I believe the inclusion of diverse people promotes respect and pride and in return, this empowers communities and raises awareness of HIV/AIDS.

A way to promote inclusiveness in NSW especially for a heterosexual women living with HIV is making us feel empowered, educate us about places like Positive life NSW because not all of us know about this organisation and the other services that are out there.

I only found support five years after I was diagnosed. This could have been different if I had been told about the support out there.

Things could have been different if I saw billboards or posters out there of people who look like me. Black, a woman, a young woman, a heterosexual couple. This would have made me feel more comfortable to get out there and connect sooner and find my ‘tribe’ within the HIV community.

Support community-led initiatives and organisations that work towards inclusion, respect, and equity in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. This is what we need to see more of.

Promote comprehensive education and awareness programs that focus on the importance of inclusion, respect, and equity in the setting of HIV/AIDS.


I feel that there is a need for equitable access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care services for all individuals.

Having equity is addressing the discrepancies related to gender, race, ethnicity, status, geographic location  and other factors that creates barriers to accessing necessary services.  This inclusive message highlights the message that health rights are human rights. The WHO (the World Health Organisation) says everyone has the right to “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

This encompasses a good quality of life and an absence of stigma and discrimination, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances, have equitable access to prevention, treatment, care, and support services.

If we equip people with accurate information this will in turn reduce stigma, and foster supportive relationships.

We need to develop awareness campaigns that are inclusive and sensitive to diverse populations, addressing the unique challenges we face in relation to HIV/AIDS.

This could involve collaborating with community organisations, cultural leaders, and must include people living with HIV/AIDS to create materials that resonate with different communities and reduce stigma.

This word I love. It’s earned but also a right of ours that sometimes gets taken for granted. Respect can come in small ways. It’s about respecting my privacy or views on my health.

I should not feel like I need to respect you, just because you are a doctor or nurse and in a position of ‘power’. Once I sit in your seat at your practice and hear the questions “how I got HIV”? “who gave it to me”? and so on – this is something you don’t need to know, to take care of me as your patient.

I should feel like I have a voice and a choice, and be shown a level of respect around these questions as a heterosexual woman.

As a heterosexual woman, I have been asked many questions so many times about living with HIV and other inappropriate questions just because a medical practitioner needed to satisfy their curiosity.  My gay male friends living with HIV tell me, they never get asked these questions. Why?

My HIV is a very small part of who Melissa is. It’s my right to feel respected. Asking me how I got HIV, is disrespecting me.

I think medical professionals should encourage open and honest dialogue about sexual health and safer sexual practices. The elimination of discrimination and prejudice is something that we need to see more of.

You know, when I tell people that I am living with HIV, they almost always assume I acquired HIV in my home country (South Africa). As everyone knows, South Africa has a very high population of people living with HIV especially among heterosexual women.

But no, I got HIV here in Sydney, NSW.

Assuming who I am or things about me, or my health, is not fair. Let me feel like I want to share, or allow me time to tell my story and respect my boundaries.

World AIDS Day is a day that we can all come together and remember people who lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. This day we celebrate who they are and how far we as a nation has come, and look to what we can now do in the future to cultivate an inclusive, equal, respectful platform for all.

In closing, like the late Aretha Franklin said, R.E.S.P.E.C.T, find out what it means to me.

Get to know me before my status, and you may even find a beautiful, intelligent and funny woman in there!

Thank you and enjoy your evening.

Delivered as a speech at a 2023 World AIDS Day event in Sydney, NSW

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