Drag Race UK season three star Charity Kase (who uses she/her pronouns in drag and he/him when off-stage as Harry Whitfield), has opened up about his HIV diagnosis to mark World AIDS Day. Since 1988, the 1st of December has been marked internationally as a day to raise awareness of AIDS, which can develop from untreated HIV, as well as to mourn those who have died from the disease.
During his time on the show, Harry shared an emotional conversation with fellow drag star Kitty Scott Claws about his experience with HIV, later taking to Instagram to highlight how society's attitude towards the virus needs to change.
"The stigma around HIV is far worse than the disease itself," the 25-year-old told OK! in an interview to mark World AIDS Day. "I take one tablet per day to stay healthy and completely undetectable so I can’t pass the disease on. I’m thriving in my life everyday, but that’s not the narrative that gets told when talking about HIV."
He continued: "When I was first diagnosed it took me a good few months to be okay with it because I believed the untrue myths as well... All I knew about the disease was that it was dirty, which isn’t true. I’m quite a destructive person when I’m sad so things really spiralled out of control. It took me right back to the vulnerable feeling I had as a child whilst being bullied. I couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t see a way of moving forward."
Harry himself admits that the stigma around HIV played a massive part in how difficult he found his diagnosis. "I was a person who had the same prejudices without even knowing it, and so did my friends," he recalled. "They thought that if they shared a drink with me that they’d catch the virus. I remember telling a family member about my diagnosis and they said, 'I told you to be careful'. That is the stigma and people don’t realise it. Contracting a virus is nobody's fault. The education system is so poor and we need to fix that so we can move forward."
Following his diagnosis, Harry went through a period of homelessness, before moving in with a supportive friend, who he still lives with today. Speaking about how he came to terms with living with HIV, Harry said he threw himself into drag. "I decided to do a 365 day drag challenge to give me something positive to focus on," he revealed. "I’d only ever done it for fun before, but I started to really take it seriously and it got attention. I have drag to thank for giving me purpose again. I felt like I didn’t have to tell people that I felt like a monster because I looked like a monster anyway. I could paint my emotions."
"The captions would challenge people to look at something that was scary and monstrous, but see that there was a deeper meaning and we should be sympathetic to them. That was my way of pushing across the message about HIV."
Appearing on the most recent season of Drag Race UK, Harry was able to further push this message about HIV. "It was important for me to talk about my HIV status on TV. I wanted to connect with people who are going through the same thing, and show that you can live a normal and happy life," he said. "Growing up I didn’t know any people on British TV who were open about it... The pool of people needs to be expanded majorly, and me coming out on TV was a way that I could make that happen."
For support, advice and to ask any questions about HIV and AIDS, contact Terrence Higgins Trust’s free helpline THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 or visit tht.org.uk/thtdirect.
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