By Dan Singh. Dan is the lead facilitator for South Asian HangOuts, a peer support and social group for South Asian gay, bisexual and trans men. Information, stories and anecdotes are based on discussion and feedback for the South Asian HangOuts group.

Rarely do we get a chance as South Asian GBT+ men to talk openly about HIV. Often a lack of visible South Asian HIV role models and activists leads to a silence and internalisation of fear and stigma. It helps to see versions of ourselves represented in our role models – people who have the courage to finally be visible and vocal, helping us to gain a voice through advocacy, activism and campaigning. 

Empowering each can take many forms in terms of advocacy, being those smaller safe conversations with each other about issues which concern us and through this making our voices be heard. Further to this having South Asian GBT+ men living with HIV on poster and video campaigns, television and cinema gives reassurance for the most isolated in society.

For some people and heterosexual families and friends it can still be a surprise, but yes HIV is a manageable condition. Again, these conversations are important in community and give an opportunity to ask questions that we are too afraid to ask. 

Open conversations

In the past, listening to South Asian GBT+ men’s experiences of living with HIV often evoked feelings of trauma for me, of not been accepted from childhood experiences, education and then internalising this shame, which meant stigma and fear often surfaced. In the current climate there are more open conversations around U=U, PrEP and getting tested regularly. Demystifying certain beliefs and myths that are out there about what is safer sex today, PrEP and living with HIV are still very much needed at a community level, with families, faith leaders and beyond.

We need to take a more detailed look into why are people still living in fear of HIV in communities that may feel excluded from the mainstream. Why is the language used around HIV often negative and is this from our own cultural perspective? Why do we feel judged and who is doing this judging? Why are some South Asian GBT+ men sceptical about PrEP and reluctant to test regularly? How do we reduce shame and stigma? These are questions and conversations we need to continue to have.

Support for South Asian people living with HIV

From my work with South Asian LGBTQIA+ people in sexual health testing and wellbeing support since 2000, there is still a clear and real issue with a large proportion of modern-day families not accepting or understanding sexuality or gender identities. So, disclosing a recently diagnosed HIV status is often a step too far for some of people. Thankfully, having safe spaces to talk in social support groups helps, including Naz Project currently offering a one-to-one peer support, group support, counselling and welfare advocacy across five groups: NAZ Latina, NAZ Africa, NAZ South Asia and NAZ Vidas. Naz also offers PEEPAL their new social peer support group space for people of South Asian heritage living with HIV. We also have, Positively UK who provides peer-led support, advocacy and information to everyone living with HIV to effectively manage any aspect of their diagnosis, care and life with HIV.  I am impressed seeing their ‘LIVING WELL WITH HIV: OUR WORKSHOP’. We also have Positive East who offer a comprehensive and holistic range of HIV support and prevention services. They are also starting a new lunch group for Positive Over 50, a new social and support lunch group for people living with HIV aged 50 and above, running on the first Thursday afternoon of each month.

The above are just few of the projects out there doing some great things. Also, for us South Asian GBT+ men, to see the Me.Him.Us campaign from LGBT HERO was great. Me.Him.Us. was a groundbreaking HIV testing campaign from GMFA - the gay men's health project, created by, led by and starring Black, Asian global majority men. These are the kind of activism and campaigning we need to see more of.

We now have a greater choice where to be tested for HIV, how we are tested and where we want to be treated. However, what about those South Asian GBT+ men who are not out and not accepted by families, culture and religion? Where can they go safely? Home testing is one-way forward, and the test does not need to arrive at your address but to an allocated safe address. You can even pick up these home testing kits and post them back. 

Shame and stigma

Our upbringing and culture (which we love or loved or reframing) that has not supported us well enough can have a negative effect. Yes, there is more acceptance in South Asian families, but we still have a long way to go. The South Asian diaspora is varied and rich. From my own experiences and listening to other South Asian GBT+ men, there is this sometimes-inherent localised village mentality and an inner voice; What will others think, or how will this affect your siblings and this blame culture of respect and pressures to look after our families' heteronormative lives.  Understandably fear of being excluded from culture, religion, family, love and acceptance drives this. This fear then drives us to self-exclude or perform a side to us that is drenched in silence and secrecy, and we carry this shame with us.

Brene Brown, an American researcher has spent two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She says:

Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

 I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behaviour than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

- Brene Brown

Most South Asian GBT+ men I have spoken to over the last 20 years have experienced feelings of shame. It is very common. They describe this intense physical and emotional pain they carry. This is no surprise that as queer people there is a lack of validation or reassurance when we are growing up. Often culture and religion explained to us by our peers, define a very ‘straight’ binary perspective to us, one in which we feel excluded from, for which we compensate again by first trying to fit in or not; or seen as rebelling from the successful systems of status quo that oppress us. 

For a lot of South Asian GBT+ men and people of colour of my generation, we witnessed images of white men living and dying of HIV/AIDS in the early 80s and 90s. I remember a lot of comments growing up that AIDS was a white person’s disease and this racial othering made it very difficult to ask the question we needed to ask, let alone potentially having to disclose a HIV status. So, this inevitably, led to further shame due to exclusion and the disconnect from our culture, religion and the lack of education around sexuality and gender in schools.

I like the following quote from Brene Brown:

If you put shame in a petri dish and cover it with judgment, silence, and secrecy, you’ve created the perfect environment for shame to grow until it makes its way into every corner and crevice of your life. If, on the other hand, you put shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, shame loses its power and begins to wither. Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame—an environment it can’t survive in, because shame needs you to believe you’re alone and it’s just you.

- Brene Brown

Busting myths

Myths are uncertainty fuelled by a lack of education and in some cases not having a safe space to ask the questions we want.

The below is a table of genuine things asked over the last five years:

Questions asked



"Can I get HIV from oral sex?"

Highly unlikely. Very low risk of HIV.

"Will my doctor tell my family if I am HIV-positive?"

Having HIV does not appear on your GP record. So NO, not without your permission, which can help if you are concerned about interaction with other medications, you may be on.


"Will my life be cut short if I have HIV?"

No. It is more likely you will live a normal life expectancy.

"Can I still have sex with others if I have HIV?"

Yes. Because your HIV medication should, after a couple of months, make you undetectable which means you cannot pass on the virus.


U=U and PrEP

U=U stands for undetectable equals untransmittable. HIV-undetectable is a term used to describe someone who is living with HIV but on successful and effective treatment. Someone who is HIV-undetectable cannot pass on the virus through sex.

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It's a pill that HIV-negative people take before sex to prevent HIV transmission. Some people take it daily, some take it on-demand or when they plan to have sex. How you take it all depends on the regularity of sex you are having. Both are effective ways of not transmitting or acquiring HIV. 

 Here are some questions I have been asked:

Questions asked



"Can anyone get PrEP? I ask because I am figuring out my sexuality."

Yes. Have a look for a PrEP clinic available in your nearest location. PrEP is available on the NHS.


"Is PrEP free or do I have to pay?"

It is FREE. PrEP is available on the NHS.


"Once I start PrEP do I have to take it forever?"



"Will I experience side effects? Is it effective?"

Yes, some people may experience side effects for the first couple of weeks, but this is rare. The drugs in PrEP have been used as part of HIV treatment for many years. This has shown that they have a low risk of serious side-effects.

Before starting PrEP it’s important to know for sure that you don’t have HIV. All this will be explained and tested for at your PreP clinic.

It is 99.5% effective.



Further reading

HIV information

HIV home testing 

Finding a clinic