Nathan Sparling gave this speech at the first ever Positive Change Gala Dinner & Auction, held at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel in Edinburgh on November 30th 2019. 

"Ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary, I want to start by thanking all of you for coming to HIV Scotland’s 25th birthday dinner and first ever Positive Change Gala.

I know it’s freezing cold outside, I know that it’s coming up to the busiest time of the year, and I know that kilts are definitely not the warmest thing to wear in the middle of winter, so to have you all here tonight means the world to me and to all of the people across the country that we support every year.

I’d like to extend a special thank you to Cllr Cammy Day his support and commitment to the Fast Track Cities Initiative. Edinburgh has joined Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen in signing up to this ground-breaking, international project, and we are well on our way to becoming the world’s first Fast Track Country.

Without the generous support of all our funders, especially those that are present here tonight, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve even a tenth of what we’ve done over the last twenty-five years, so my deepest thanks go out to them.

I’d like to thank Panti Bliss for attending this evening, for her incredibly informative Q&A session earlier today at the University of Edinburgh, and for her typically poignant speech earlier this evening. I must say, it’s pretty new and refreshing to not be the only drag queen in the room at a HIV Scotland event.

Further to this, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel, the musicians, the AV staff, and everyone else who made tonight possible.

Finally, I’d like to say thank you to all the staff and the board of HIV Scotland. We’re a small team, but we’re a dynamic one that works hard and works together to get things done.

I’ve been the Chief Executive of HIV Scotland for just over a year now, and we’re at a really exciting stage in our life as a charity. When I took over last year, thing weren’t looking too good. We were at risk of closure, and we had just two members of full-time staff. Since then, we’ve gone from strength to strength. Our team has grown exponentially, continues to grow and, as Nicoletta has touched upon, we’ve already achieved some amazing things.

Tonight, is about celebrating those successes, recognising where we need to do better, but most importantly looking toward a brighter, better, healthier future for everyone in Scotland that is living with and affected by HIV.

Decades on from the start of the epidemic, we’ve made massive strides forward.

If you went back to the 1980s and said that, in thirty years’ time, we’d be talking about social care for the elderly and not palliative care for the young, then you’d never be believed.

If you said that taking just one pill a day could prevent people from contracting HIV, then you’d be laughed out of the room.

If you said that people living with HIV on effective treatment couldn’t pass the virus on, then you’d be called a fool.

Today, those things that would’ve seemed like pipe dreams thirty years ago, are all a reality. We’ve made huge progress, but the work must go on.

The ongoing HIV outbreak in Glasgow, one of the biggest in Western Europe, shows where we can do better, especially within communities that are far too often regarded as ‘hard to reach.’ People who inject drugs are criminalised, stigmatised, and marginalised, and we need to continue to work with our partners across the sector to ensure that they are not swept under the carpet.

For too long, Scotland’s attitude to drug use has been “out of sight, out of mind.” Lock them up and throw away the key. Not only is this attitude morally unjustifiable, but it has also led to poorer public health outcomes. Friends, our drug laws are a ticking time bomb, and we are at two minutes to midnight.

That’s why we partnered with Waverley Care, the Hwupenyu Project, the Hepatitis C Trust, and the Terrence Higgins Trust to ask candidates for the upcoming general election to commit to wholesale, radical drug law reform. People from across the political spectrum, including the First Minister, signed our pledge.

We’ve heard the promises… and now we need to see the progress.

On the eve of World AIDS Day, as we look back at 31 years of commemoration, it’s important to reflect on what tomorrow is about. World AIDS Day isn’t just a fundraising opportunity. It’s not just another day for empty promises. It’s not just a red ribbon.

World AIDS Day is a chance to look back at the history of this virus and take stock. Here in Scotland, a HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, but there are some parts of the world where it is.

Last year alone, 770,000 people died from HIV related causes globally.

That’s nearly double the population of Edinburgh… in just one year.

I think it’s difficult when you’re dealing with such huge numbers to remember the human side of the story. Seven hundred and seventy thousand is not just a number.

It’s 770,000 fathers, daughters, and sons.

It’s 770,000 brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles.

It’s 770,000 best friends, partners, husbands, and wives.

While we talk in Scotland about caring for people over the age of sixty that are living with HIV, conversations in other countries focus on living to the age of thirty, or the age of twenty, or the age of ten.

We have made progress, and it is worth celebrating, but we cannot rest until HIV is beaten not just here in Scotland, but everywhere around the world.

Looking toward the future, we know that change can’t wait.

Whether it’s health-focused drug policy or the urgent need for a public health campaign, change can’t wait.

Whether it’s an overhaul of the social care system or the urgent need for trans-inclusive healthcare, change can’t wait.

Whether it’s the abolition of HIV criminalisation or the urgent need for patient-centred care, change can’t wait.

Change can’t wait because people living with HIV deserve to be heard and not ignored.

Change can’t wait because people who inject drugs deserve compassion and not punishment.

Change can’t wait because getting to zero by 2030 is no easy task, and every day that we dither and delay the harder and harder that ambition will be to realise.

We’re passionate and determined that Scotland becomes a country free of new HIV transmissions, free of HIV-related stigma, and free of HIV-related deaths. We can get to zero, but we can’t do it alone. We’ll only get there with the help of people like you.

People that fund our work, people that raise money for us, and people that stand with us, shoulder to shoulder, when we say if these are the rules, the rules must change.

As we reflect tonight on 25 years working across Scotland to support people living with and affected by HIV, we must consider the successes, but also the failures, the celebrations, but also the disappointments, the past, but also the future.

So, what does the future hold for HIV Scotland?

Well, over the next year we’ll be meeting with GPs across the country to discuss increasing testing in their surgeries because late diagnosis is far too prevalent, and when diagnosed late you’re nearly ten times more likely to die.

We’ll be releasing a report into the sexual and reproductive health of trans and non-binary people because shutting out and silencing voices remains persistent, and we need to make sure that giving a voice to those too often ignored by the system is our top priority.

We’ll hold, with our friends across the sector, the first ever Sex, Drugs and Scotland’s Health Conference, to discuss the big issues that are affecting the country, because bringing the sector together, celebrating success, and learning from one another is the only way we can get to zero.

We’ll continue with our creative activism to make sure that people can express their views and sentiments in any number of ways, and not just around a table in a boardroom, because everyone’s different, and we need to make sure that every voice is amplified whatever form their expression takes.

We’ll be continuing to advocate for people living with HIV to ensure that our work remains relevant, meaningful, and inclusive.

Because if someone wants a tattoo then their HIV status shouldn’t stand in their way.

Because if someone needs to go to the dentist then their HIV status shouldn’t see their appointment pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Because if someone is in a care home then their HIV status shouldn’t mean that they’re given the last bath of the day just to make sure that it’s “cleaned properly” afterwards.

And, in the vein of international solidarity, tonight I am announcing that 2020 will be the year that we aim to go beyond Scotland, focussing not only on the people within our borders, but those outwith them as well. Because if we truly want to get to zero, in Scotland and around the world, borders are no barrier.

Scotland is a small country, but we can and should be playing our part on the international stage. That’s why, next year, we’ll be looking into taking Scotland’s unique HIV response global. Borders are not a contraceptive and they are not a method of prevention. HIV doesn’t care about borders, and neither should we.

2020 will be HIV Scotland’s most ambitious year to date, but we can’t do it without your help. We can’t do it without your drive, your passion, and your support.

Tonight is a celebration, but it’s also a chance for you to help us make the urgent changes that Scotland needs.

Please, if you can, dig deep and help us continue on the road to zero. Your support tonight means the world to us, but our work doesn’t end at the door. We have a number of regular donors that help support us all year round, and we’d be delighted if you could join them. Speak to one of the HIV Scotland team that are dotted around the room, or head to our website to find out more.

Now, I don’t want to be the first one on the dancefloor tonight. We’ve got a fabulous band to play us through until midnight, so let’s all get our dancing shoes on and enjoy the rest of the night."