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A London Tattoo Artist Refused to Serve This Man Because He’s HIV-Positive

A London Tattoo Artist Refused to Serve This Man Because He’s HIV-Positive

The renowned studio not only broke the law, but has since said publically they do not discriminate — their actions speak differently. 

Despite there being zero risk involved in tattooing a patron with HIV under the current standard hygiene measures parlors ought to be using, there are still countless of uneducated artists choosing not to service HIV-positive people out of ignorance. 

Once such artist, Malvina Wisniewska, who works at London’s Sang Bleu, a renowned studio run by famous Swiss tattoo artist Maxime Plescia-Buchi (whose clients include Kanye West and Vogue), refused to serve a man named Rob Curtis upon hearing of his positive status — the denial came just minutes before his scheduled appointment. 

“It was awful,” Curtis said to Buzzfeed. “I was really shocked and had an empty feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I felt really helpless. I don’t feel like a second-class citizen every day.” 

Curtis, who has been on antiretroviral therapy for years and is now undetectable, said his initial appointment to discuss the art for his tattoo happened last November. Last weekend, he finalized the plans and was ready to get started, until he had to fill out a medical questionnaire. After turning in the forms to the receptionist, he left for a few minutes, only to recieve call immediately afterwards telling him to return to the studio. 

“I got there and the receptionist asked me to sit down on the sofa – the artist was nowhere to be found,” Curtis said, “She explained to me that Malvina was not interested in doing the work because she doesn’t work on people who are HIV-positive.” He pointed out that the receptionist was “mortified” to even have to say this. “She said, ‘I know some people know there is medication and antiretrovirals and the risk is low,’” he continued. “‘but Malvina just doesn’t feel comfortable so she’s not going to do it.’” 

After the receptionist offered to email other artists and see who was available to replace Malvina, he declined and simply said, “I’m not sure I want to do business here again.” 

Because artists at Sang Bleu are independent contractors and not employees, as Plescia-Buchi pointed out in a follow up email to Curtis, they cannot be forced to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing. But here’s the thing: According to the Equality Act 2010, refusing service to someone because of their HIV status is against the law.

Curtis has since made a formal complaint to the licensing department of the local council and plans to make another to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which was responsible for the Equality Act. 

To make things worse, the studio wasn’t willing to give back his deposit straight away, and instead offered to PayPal him at a later date. After taking it to the manager, Curtis finally got his money back. But the damage was already done. 

The experience prompted Curtis to come out publicly about his status on Facebook: “I was a little worried about doing so because there were people I’d worked with professionally but after a while I realized I didn’t care – I was so angry,” he said to Buzzfeed. “I wanted to channel that anger into something constructive and I realized there would be lots of people who wouldn’t have the courage to talk about it.”

In addition to coming out HIV-positive, he left a comment on the tattooist’s Instagram page. She responded saying that she was too nervous about contracting HIV and that it was her “personal choice, not discrimination.” 

Curtis also received support from the receptionist that gave him the news. She emailed him: “I share your disgust and outrage about the way you have been treated. As do many of my coworkers. It is a dark fact about the tattoo industry that uneducated people refuse to tattoo a client with HIV. They are unaware of scientific facts, the minimal risks, and advancements in transmission prevention. I admire you for speaking out publicly about the discrimination you suffered.”

But Curtis doesn’t want it to stop with an apology. As he told Buzzfeed, he wants “an acknowledgement from them that what they’ve done is wrong – from both the studio and the artist”, and for the studio “to change their practices – to no longer permit any of their artists from discriminating against people because of their HIV.” 

Plescia-Buchi also replied to an email from Curtis, saying, “I deplore what happened but I can not force anyone to do something they do not feel comfortable doing. It is not a policy at Sang Bleu to discriminate and most artists wouldn’t care. I am happy to tattoo you myself if you want. I personall [sic] have many HIV positive clients. That is what I can offer to you. Otherwise the only person to answer for the situation is Malvina in person as artists are independent contractors and not Sang Bleu employees.”

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