Former cabinet minister Chris Smith to combat AIDS prejudice

BY admin

February 01 2005 1:00 AM ET

A British lawmaker who revealed over the weekend that he is HIV-positive said Monday that he wants to combat the prejudice surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Former cabinet minister Chris Smith, the United Kingdom's first openly gay lawmaker, announced in a weekend newspaper interview that he has been HIV-positive for 17 years. "It is important to make the point that you can live with HIV, you can be perfectly fit and well, and you can do all sorts of other things as well. You can lead a full and busy life," Smith told British Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday.

The former culture secretary also said he would work to help hundreds of thousands of people with AIDS in poor nations who cannot get access to drugs: "I certainly want to take that flag and wave it as vigorously as I possibly can."

Smith, 53, was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1987 but has managed to remain healthy thanks to medication, a carefully controlled diet, and exercise. He told The Sunday Times newspaper that he didn't inform Prime Minister Tony Blair of his condition when he was appointed culture secretary in 1997 because he did not feel it affected his work in any way.

Smith also reportedly said he decided to tell the public he had the virus after former South African president Nelson Mandela announced that his son had died of AIDS complications. Following his son's death earlier this month, Mandela called for more publicity about HIV/AIDS and an end to the culture of hiding the condition. "What Nelson Mandela said very much struck a chord with me," Smith was quoted as saying. "He spoke about how nobody should be ashamed of HIV and said that it should be regarded just like any other illness. He was brave and right." Smith, who was first elected to British parliament in 1983, publicly revealed he is gay in 1984. (AP)

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