Britain's First Gay Minister Comes Out As HIV Positive

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Congratulations for Chris Smith for having the courage to announce this:

I'm HIV positive says Chris Smith

· Ex-Cabinet Minister diagnosed in 1987
· Mandela prompted him to speak out

Former Labour cabinet minister Chris Smith has been HIV positive for 17 years, but did not tell Tony Blair when he was appointed Culture Secretary in 1997.
Smith, 53, the first openly gay cabinet member in British history, said he was inspired to go public after comments by the former South African president, Nelson Mandela, about his son, who died of Aids this month.

He said he had not felt it necessary to inform the Prime Minister of the infection because it did not affect his ability to do his job.

Smith has been MP for Islington South and Finsbury in London since 1983 and was feted for his courage when he came out as gay a year later.

He was diagnosed with HIV - the virus which can develop into Aids - in 1987, shortly before meeting his long-term partner Dorian Jabri, though he did not know how long he had been carrying the virus.

When he developed the disease, public fear and prejudice about the illness was at its height, and drugs to halt the progress of the condition were in the early stages of development.

Smith said he 'was lucky' that soon after his diagnosis he was put onto anti-retroviral drugs, which helped to halt the progress of the virus and prevented it from developing into Aids itself. 'When I first heard about it, I was really worried because there was hardly any treatment, but I was lucky and fairly early on I was put on AZT and later on to a combination of drugs,' he wrote in the Sunday Times.

'It was the uncertainty which clearly has an effect.'

He has maintained his health since then through a daily mixture of daily drugs and a sensible diet, he said, adding: 'I've also been with the National Health Service all that time.'

Asked if he had informed Blair, he responded: 'I didn't feel the need to tell people, except for a very, very few, as it was not in any way affecting my work.'

Mandela called for an end to the stigma linked to the illness earlier this month, as he revealed that his 54-year-old son Makgatho had died of Aids.

The former president said: 'Let us give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it, because [that is] the only way to make it appear like a normal illness.'

Smith said that Mandela's comments had prompted him to speak out about his own condition. 'What Nelson Mandela said very much struck a chord with me,' he explained.

Smith was sacked from the Cabinet in 2001, and has already announced that he is standing down from Parliament at the next general election, expected in May.

Thanks to advances in drug treatment, it is now possible for people with HIV to live for many years in relative good health. For this reason, the term Aids is no longer used by some doctors, who prefer to use 'late stage' or 'advanced' HIV infection.