Avin Tan, who identifies as a gay man, was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2009. Like many Singaporeans living with HIV, he was at the prime of his working age. Despite his efforts to encourage others to come out about their positive HIV/AIDS status, none were willing to follow in his footsteps until 2016.
Tan works full-time with Action for AIDS and is an advocate for the rights of persons living with HIV. Tan's focus is on the fight against workplace discrimination and termination at work due to one's HIV-positive status.
Tan was conducting training for volunteers on how to use the test kits in 2009 when he found out he had HIV. He wondered how he was going to tell his parents about his HIV status. It would take four years before he got his answer.
In 2011, he was a volunteer on "48", a Royston Tan documentary. He had to source for subjects – people living with HIV – to be interviewed. Not one person was willing unless they could remain anonymous. It dawned on him that if he couldn't do it, how could he convince someone else?
A year later, Action for AIDS was looking for people to speak at the 8th Singapore AIDS Conference about living with HIV. No one from Singapore would come forward. He had had enough. He agreed to speak at the conference.
Tan discussed HIV with his family previously through his work, so the reaction was not as bad as he had expected. The hardest part was telling his mother. He started by leaving his bottles of medicine around in the hope that she would ask him...and she did. But every time, he lied about it. He thinks he was probably seized with panic. He was not ready to tell her. This went on for 6 months and she asked him about it four or five times.
Finally, he knew he had to just say it: "Mom - you know those medicine bottles in my room? It's true. They are mine. I am living with HIV." His mother immediately asked how was he coping, why he did not tell her earlier, did he need help paying for his medication, how his health was and whether he was alright.
Then she started crying. She was obviously upset. But she was not worried he was contagious or would infect the family. She was only worried for his health. Tan felt a great relief after telling her. After that, he felt comfortable telling more people.
In retrospect, Tan felt that all the delays with his mother were a good thing. It gave him time to educate her about HIV here and there so that she would know it was not a death sentence. She developed quite a good understanding of HIV by the time he told her. Tan feels that when coming out to someone, it is as much a journey for him, as is it for them. So it is important to slowly ease them in and increase their knowledge about the topic - especially for something as sensitive as a HIV diagnosis.
A year later, Tan's mother made her first appearance with him at a public event when he was speaking on stage.
On World AIDS Day, 1 December 2014, Tan posted a photo on his Facebook showing his sister's and mother's support and love for him after coming out, remarking, "What love looks like. I'm able to stand up, tall and proud and speak because of love and acceptance from my family and friends."
8th Singapore AIDS ConferenceEdit
Tan shared his experience of being diagnosed HIV-positive at the 8th Singapore AIDS Conference in 2012. The delegates gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech. The following is a video of his speech shot by Roy Ngerng:
Tan also announced his HIV status during the International AIDS Conference in 2013.
AM Live! interviewEdit
On Friday, 30 November 2012, AM Live! interviewed Tan together with another HIV activist, Laurindo Garcia. Both had both recently come out about their HIV-positive status during the 8th Singapore AIDS Conference held earlier that year.
The People of SingaporeEdit
Channel News Asia interviewEdit
On Wednesday, 16 July 2014, Channel News Asia broadcast a news clip on the HIV pandemic in Indonesia during their "Primetime Asia" bulletin at 7:30pm. It featured an interview with Tan in which he revealed how he discovered he was infected with the virus.
HIV discussion on Happy-TVEdit
In August 2014, Tan was invited to be a panel member on Happy-TV Media Pte Ltd's online series "Talkabout". The episode dealt with the topic of HIV-AIDS in Singapore. The host of the discussion was Kenneth Liang. Other speakers included Dr. George Bishop, Susan Solomon, Terry Lim, Joanne Sim, James Foong and Dr. Leong Hoe Nam. The programme was uploaded in ten parts to YouTube:
9th Singapore AIDS ConferenceEdit
Tan attended the 9th Singapore AIDS Conference held in conjunction with World AIDS Day on Saturday, 29 November 2014. During the conference, Tan, who is a manager at Action for AIDS said, "A lot of the stigma and discrimination stems from misinformation or this irrational fear of how HIV could even spread through central air-con systems or sharing food with someone. So these are the misconceptions that cause unnecessary fears. People need to feel that its safe to talk about it.”,,
World AIDS Day specialEdit
Tan was featured in Channel News Asia's Web Exclusive of INSIGHT+: HIV At The Workplace (World AIDS Day Special) which was uploaded to their website on Sunday, 30 November 2014 - the eve of World AIDS Day 2014.
The video was advertised thus: "The United Nations estimates that worldwide, 19 million people living with HIV do not know they have the virus. In Singapore, many of those affected are in their prime working age. How is HIV discrimination a workplace issue?"
World AIDS Day interviewEdit
On World AIDS Day itself, 1 December 2014, Kevin Poh, General Manager at Action for AIDS (AfA) and Avin Tan, who is also Manager, Advocacy and Partnerships at AfA were interviewed by Channel News Asia during their "Singapore Tonight" bulletin.
On Sunday, 30 November 2014, Tan was interviewed by host Daniel Martin on 938LIVE, an English radio station of MediaCorp. He shared his experience living with HIV, and how the management of the condition had improved dramatically, resulting in an increase in the longevity and quality of life of people living with HIV today. This was echoed by fellow interviewee, Dr. Leong Hoe Nam from Rohpi Clinic, who said, "HIV is not a disease of the dying, but a disease of the living" and could be better managed with early detection and treatment. PLWHA could expect to live a fulfilling life, well into their silver years.
Pink Dot 2015Edit
Tan was invited to be a speaker in the Community Voices segment of Pink Dot 2015 at Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park. He made an impassioned speech with his mother, Diana, on the podium:
Another, more complete, video of Tan's speech was uploaded by Action for AIDS (AfA):
He shared his life as a gay person living with HIV in a conservative Asian society like Singapore and the challenges he faced and life-lessons he learnt after his diagnosis and coming out in the public. He called for a less discriminatory society and a community better educated about HIV.
This article was written by Roy Tan.