susan-paxtonI am an AIDS activist, facilitator, trainer and community-based researcher and I have been living with HIV for twenty years. I first started speaking out about HIV six months after my diagnosis in 1991. I have since spoken to thousands of people, including health care workers and students in Australia and overseas, in order to challenge the myths surrounding AIDS, decrease stigma and discrimination and help people to realise that anybody can be vulnerable to HIV infection.

For over a decade I have been very involved in APN+, the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV, first as the Australian representative on the APN+ Board and since as an Advisor. For APN+ I wrote, “Lifting the Burden of Secrecy”, a two-volume training package for HIV-positive people who want to speak out in public, now translated into six languages; “AIDS discrimination in Asia”, a study indicating that the majority of people diagnosed as HIV-positive face subsequent discrimination, particularly within the health sector, and women face disproportionately much more discrimination than men do in the community; and “Diamonds”, a compilation of life stories of eleven strong HIV-positive women leaders in the Asia-Pacific region.

I was an inaugural recipient of the Australian Government’s Jonathan Mann Memorial Scholarship. My post-doctoral research, based at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, investigated the challenges to involving HIV-positive people in the regional response to AIDS. In the run up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, I carried the Torch on behalf of HIV-positive people.

I spend a great deal of my time in Asia, training HIV-positive people, and women in particular, to gain skills and confidence to run their own organisations, advocate for themselves and ultimately take their place as equal partners in the response to HIV.