Art and Activism are aspects, which make me happier, useful and more balanced
Our new SC member, Christos Krasidis, talked with us about his motivation to work with AAE and about goals and agenda he is working on in Cyprus.
1. Hi Christos, you are a passionate activist for many years, please tell us how you started to advocate for the interest of people living with HIV and other key populations?
It all started when I was studying Music in Athens, back in my early 20’s. I visited a fundraising event and, after I had bought few things, I found out that it was aimed to support a local HIV/AIDS organisation. A couple of weeks later I started researching on the story of Freddie Mercury and the Queen band, and got really passionate about their music and his story. Synchronicity was such, that I found myself in a situation that I needed to go get tested for HIV, after an incident I experienced, and for those formative years that was quite intense for me. After this series of events, I started volunteering my services to a local HIV/AIDS in the gay community. I didn’t do much to be honest. Nothing more than a few translations of content from English to Greek for informative flyers.
Ten years later and upon my return to Cyprus, I got involved with a group of people who wanted to start a Gay organisation and became a founding member of Accept LGBT Cyprus. Around the same time, I started working very closely with the Cyprus Family Planning Association, the oldest NGO in Cyprus dealing with issues around sexual health and sexual rights. I felt like home. I found close friends. I became very creative as we put together “Sexperience”, a series of open festivals. I felt useful. I felt this is how we can actually make a difference and change ourselves and our world. Then the recession hit Cyprus in 2013, and everything stopped. I felt the recession was a shock and an excuse to freeze all these amazing things that were done with limited or no budget at all. So I took the initiative to produce a video for the World AIDS Day 2013, gathered friends, colleagues, students of mine, activists, politicians, media people, who stood in front of the camera and stated “I am HIV+ too”. The video became viral, taking the small size of the island under consideration, and made an impact. Right after that, I was contacted by activists from the AIDS Solidarity Movement Cyprus and I joined forces.
I feel that Art and Activism are the two main aspects of my life, that make it happier, useful, more balanced. This helps me develop personally, become a better version of myself, and allows me to make a sense of my reality. I believe that we are all connected to each other, in such a way that anything that happens to someone next to me, affects me too, and vice-versa. Volunteerism and activism is nothing but an act of self-expression, aiming to improve this world, starting from oneself.
2. What was your motivation to become a SC member of AAE? What do you expect from the work as SC member of AAE and which benefits do you expect for your work in AIDS Solidarity Movement?
The past three years, my work around HIV/AIDS has led me to participate in capacity building seminars, training sessions, meetings and projects, both in Cyprus and abroad. I felt that it is time for me to further evolve and play a different role as an activist, on a broader level to the local one. Being a member of the SC of AAE will definitely allow me personally, as well as the AIDS Solidarity Movement, which is a member of AAE, to become more active on the European level and beyond. Knowledge transfer and interaction with other activists outside Cyprus will surely help my local community and the organisation I belong to, to further develop and grow. After all, we do live in times of globalisation, and joining forces with partners who work on the same goals as you will defiantly help you further evolve and make a bigger impact.
3. What is your role in your organisation and what does your work look like?
The AIDS Solidarity Movement is the oldest organisation in Cyprus, established in 1989. I joined in 2015 as a board member and an active volunteer and in 2017, I was re-elected and have been acting as the Secretary since. At the same time, I am the Communications Representative of the Movement, with an active presence in local media. The Movement registered the name “Cy Checkpoint”, which is the Prevention and Testing Centre for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections, and started offering HIV and Syphilis Rapid Testing in Gay bars, saunas, night clubs, Universities and other public places. I have also become a Community Health Worker, offering testing and pre- and post- test counselling in the Outreach Activities. We are active in raising awareness around sexual health, safer sexual practices, prevention and testing. We work closely with Gregorios Clinic, which is the reference HIV/AIDS clinic in Cyprus, and we conduct surveys related to HIV/AIDS issues. The Movement is also a full member of the National Committee of HIV/AIDS, held by the Ministry of Health.
4. Can you please give us a brief introduction on HIV/AIDS situation in Cyprus. And please tell us about your recent or past good practice example in the field of HIV/AIDS in Cyprus.
The epidemiological data show a disturbing rise in new HIV infections among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), the past 10 years. The numbers are still considerably small, but given the fact that there are a lot of people who hide their sexual orientation, or form traditional marriages and continue to have sex with the same sex, and adding the fact that unsafe sexual practices are quite common, the danger of the rise becoming an epidemic in the general population is very realistic. So, this is not something that concerns only the Gay community.
Cyprus is a difficult case, as on the one hand it’s a considerably small place with a population just a bit over one million. The population is very diverse, as Cypriots in the South of the island speak Greek, and Cypriots in the North speak Turkish. We use English to communicate to one another. The religious backgrounds are not supportive in uniting the people, and the conservative attitudes are not helpful. Nonetheless, the LGBTQI community, together with activists and artists, are possibly the people who have created a common ground of communication and has formed closer relationships. The island is divided in the North and the South after 1974, and was forcibly split in two regions. For years, people from one part did not have contact to people in the other part. After 2013, the people can now cross the divide and cross to the other side. People have sex and the political situation is not really stooping them. Thus, our work in raising awareness around HIV and other STIs, safer sexual practices and prevention, is becoming crucial.
The AIDS Solidarity Movement has close relations to the LGBT communities in both sides, and works closely with both Accept LGBT Cyprus in the South, and Queer Cyprus Association in the North. We always find ways to fill the gaps created by politics and form useful collaborations, that originate from our very close personal relationships with one another. When there is a will, there’s always a way.
5. One last question: Can you tell us what your mission is/your goal in the field of HIV/AIDS and what are the barriers in Cyprus on the way to reach them?
We envision a world without new infections of HIV/AIDS. The Movement aims to support people living with HIV (PLWH) with psychological encouragement in order to empower their decisions affecting their health and quality of life. We advocate for the rights of PLWH and strives to improve the existing conditions of treatment and adherence to medication. We also work towards raising public awareness around HIV/AIDS, in order to eliminating any form of discrimination that results from the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
We believe that Cyprus can become a success story in terms of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target, due to the small size of the island. Unfortunately, the lack of funding is one of the main obstacles we face, in order to test the general population and allow the first 90 to fall in place. We currently focus on gay men and other MSM and other key populations, but eventually the general public should get informed and should get tested, in order to achieve the first target. The small size of the island allows the second 90 to be realistically achievable, as the people who are diagnosed are immediately linked to care. There is only one reference HIV Public Clinic in Cyprus, and that makes it easier to achieve the target of having all PLHIV under treatment, in order to suppress the virus. But without having achieved the first 90, then we can’t be possibly being talking about a success story.
There is still taboo around HIV testing in Cyprus, not to mention around issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual behaviours in general. The community is small and quite conservative. The key to all these is awareness and information. We do have a long way ahead of us.
Thank you, Christos!