Early this April I decided that I wanted a new tattoo. I saved up, chose my design, and asked around for a reputable, decent studio. After finally settling on one following advice from friends I booked my appointment, went to the studio, paid my deposit, and answered some routine health questions. Believing everything to be in hand I headed out of the studio and toward home, but after ten minutes received a call telling me that I was to go back as soon as possible because they couldn’t tattoo me.

Confused, I returned to the studio and was taken aside by the manager. He told me, within earshot of other customers, that they couldn’t go through with the service and that I was to be refunded my deposit. This wasn’t because I had been rude to staff, or because I couldn’t afford the tattoo, but because I was living with HIV. 

It wasn’t the choice of the tattoo studio not to go through with it, but the choice of Glasgow City Council whose guidelines on tattooing someone living with HIV reinforce the sort of stigma that you don’t expect to face in the modern day. Being told that I have to obtain a letter from my GP, and still not be guaranteed a tattoo depending on the "individual tattoo artist" is not acceptable. It poses no risk to myself or the tattoo artist, and this is forcing people living with HIV to jump through hoops that other members of the public would never have to jump through. It’s discrimination. Pure and simple, no ifs, no buts.

HIV is unlike any other condition, the stigma we face because of our status is unlike any other. That's why we need action. 

Whenever I’ve been asked about my status, I have always been honest, and now I’m being punished for that honesty by a city council with guidelines that belong in the history books. This discrimination is recommended and by extension sanctioned by Glasgow City Council. It needs to stop. That’s why I’m working with HIV Scotland to highlight this discrimination and campaign to reform these guidelines in Glasgow and across Scotland. 

The impact of stigma affects people in different ways. I’m confident enough to be able to stand up and talk openly about my status – but for many, they don’t have the power to. The fear of discrimination is enough to scare someone from even going to a tattoo studio. That’s why we need Councillors to stand in solidarity with people living with HIV and send a clear message that turning away people based on their status is wrong. 

If Local Authorities wrote to all licensed tattoo studios to make them aware that turning someone away because they are living with HIV is wrong and breaches the Equality Act 2010, then we'd start to make the kind of progress that's needed. Turning someone away because of their HIV status is illegal. There's no risk of HIV from tattooing if standard infection control procedures are used with everyone. Simple. We need a system that works for everyone and gives everyone equal access to services. Enough is enough.