For many people living with HIV, Sadiq Ali’s story sounds familiar: Disclosing your status to a trusted coworker only to find the news quickly going viral and soon everyone is acting different around you. Ali experienced this in 2014 when he was training as a circus performer in Europe. As he described in a moving essay this year in the British newspaper Metro, Ali endured a whisper campaign that preceded his peers avoiding him.
“The [rumors were] really damaging because I was still struggling at the time to accept my diagnosis and it felt like a devastating blow for others to reject me so publicly,” Ali wrote. “Around the same time, I was still learning about HIV and I quickly discovered through talking to my doctors that the daily medication I was taking would soon mean I couldn’t pass on HIV to sexual partners — never mind performing ones.”
Instead of ending his acrobatic dreams, Ali mustered the courage to call a meeting with his instructors and fellow students. He spoke candidly about his HIV status and answered as many questions as he could, allaying many of their irrational fears. Eventually, his classmates turned around and embraced him fully, even helping him clean up his blood after he cut himself during a performance.
Ali, raised in a Muslim household in Scotland, has since adopted the mantle of HIV activist. He not only shared his experience in Metro, but has been one of the stars of a public service campaign attempting to tackle HIV stigma.
“[The campaign is] not about saying a HIV diagnosis is easy, but showing you can still fulfill your dreams,” Ali writes. “We’re pilots and radio presenters, mums and dads, nurses and circus performers.”