Robbie Interview Grace Alice

Interview with Robbie Lawlor, HIV Activist, on HIV Stigma

Robbie became active within the HIV community since his diagnosis in 2012. Robbie is a member of European AIDS Treatment Group and is a co-founder of Access to Medicines Ireland. Robbie is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dublin City University and has a particular interest in grassroots activism and the access to medicines movement in Eastern Europe. His research is exploring HIV/HEP C treatment activism in Ukraine.


 What is HIV stigma?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Often people forget about the human and just focus on the immunodeficiency virus. 

I got HIV from unprotected sex with another man. Therefore, people automatically get these, often negative, preconceived notions about who I am as a person without knowing me. I also don’t know another adult who has practiced safe sex 100% of the time. Humans are fantastic at othering!

Why does HIV stigma exist?

People are still terrified of HIV due to a lack of knowledge about the virus. The legacy of the AIDS epidemic is still strong in Ireland. Fear and ignorance = HIV stigma. People need to know that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment can’t pass on HIV sexually and we live as long as everyone else. Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U)

In addition to ignorance, people living with HIV are the walking embodiments of shame that we attribute towards sex and drug use in Ireland. Overcoming this element of stigma is trickier.

How might someone experience HIV stigma in their lives?

We experience stigmas 3 ways:

Internalised stigma: We internalise stigma around sex/drug use etc. growing up. Then BAM you get HIV. Then you think “I have HIV therefore I am a bad person”. A listening ear and lots of cups of tea with compassionate, non-judgemental loved ones can help overcome this! 

Perceived Stigma: All queer people know the thoughts that go through your head before ‘coming out’ to family. ‘Will my family disown me?’ etc. People living with HIV on dates experience “will this a deal-breaker”. 

Enacted Stigma: When people call you dirty/unclean, stop dating you, kick you out of your church, etc. 

How does HIV stigma affect people?

Stigma can throw people into a forced viral closet. Imagine hiding a secret about a manageable health condition? Imagine being terrified of people ‘outing’ you? Imagine the anxiety of wondering if the person you fancy is just going to walk away after disclosing your status? It’s exhausting and leads to heightened levels of stress, anxiety, etc. 

Has HIV stigma thought you anything about the world?

I like to think of HIV as a great filtration system. If someone you’re dating or a friend gives you a bad reaction (even after being educated about HIV) – eh, what a huge red flag. You got away lucky. We should all strive for a compassionate, respectful and understanding social group around us. I’m HIV positively over negative people!

Also, I think it is important to highlight that 90% of people are sound. We hear a lot about the bad eggs but there are many fab people out there.

How do we fight HIV stigma in our own lives?

Personally, overcoming internalised stigma was the most freeing thing I could do for myself. I told myself ‘I am not dirty’, ‘I am not unclean’, ‘I am not second rate’, ‘I’ve nothing to be ashamed of’ AND I will NEVER allow anyone to make me feel like I am. Once I started to believe this, my way of thinking changed. People who say stigmatising things don’t know me. They probably don’t know anything about HIV. What they say isn’t a reflection of me because I know I’m a good person. 

Overcoming internalised stigma reduces the power of perceived and enacted stigma. 

How do we fight HIV stigma on a national/global level?

We need to scream Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) from the rooftops! Like I have sex with my HIV negative fella without a condom all the time. He simply cannot get HIV from me. 

We need to educate people about HIV, including what it means to live with HIV

Racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/sex-negativity/criminalisation + stigma of drug use all need to be eradicated. This is a generational goal. I hold great hope for our young people. 

Any recommended reading/watching/following/listening in relation to HIV stigma?

Here is a video of me and my boyfriend talking about U=U:

ACT UP Dublin on Twitter for Irish HIV news:

Elena Vaughan is a fab researcher in NUIG on HIV stigma:

AIDSMAP is my go-to for all things HIV. They have a very strong HIV stigma section:

Grace Alice Sex And Relationships Educator

Thank you, I'll be in touch soon...


This service is fully limited to Sexuality Education. All advice is given in an honest manner and as guidance only. By using this service, you agree that you make your own decisions, relying solely on your discretion; any use you make of such answers, advice or services is at your own risk and ‘Grace Alice Sexuality Educator’ cannot be held responsible or be liable for any damages or losses resulting from your reliance on such answers or advice.

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Firstly, let us start with what the session is not! I am not a practicing sex therapist, sexologist, medical professional, psychotherapist, psychologist, counsellor, or mental health professional. Therefore, I do not provide medical advice (although I may recommend that you seek guidance from a medical professional if appropriate) or a therapy service.

Sex & Relationships Education is a separate field to these professions, and I employ my own unique approach based on my qualifications, training, and experience. I hold an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy and a Masters degree in Health Promotion. I have over six years experience working as a Sex & Relationships Educator and have undergone continuous professional development and training. I also studied empathy education as a UNESCO scholar, which informs my approach. Details of my qualifications and training are available on my LinkedIn page – please see the ‘About’ page also!

Within a session, I offer a confidential and safe space for discussion of various issues relating to relationships and sexuality. I strive for a relaxed, informal vibe, where you can chat about something that you have been struggling with. I can offer a friendly and non-judgemental listening ear, suggestions on how you can approach your own personal situation, general information on the related topic(s) and details of relevant professionals, support services and organisations (usually in a follow-up email). I can accommodate sessions relating to many topics relating to relationships and sexuality – including but not limited to body image, sexual communication, consent and boundaries, protection, anatomy, vaginismus, porn, STIs and STI stigma, healthy and unhealthy relationships, gender and sexuality, pleasure, arousal, desire, infidelity, break-ups, dating, and more.  I want my clients to feel relaxed, comfortable, and free to talk without fear or shame, like they would with a very close friend!

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In a nutshell, you can contact me via the booking page on this site and request a booking. If I decide that a session with me would be a good fit for you, I will contact you and arrange a time and date!

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Standard Session1 hour€50
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Imay choose not to do a session with you if I feel that I am unable to offer support or education relating to your situation. I will contact you to let you know if I have decided that my service is not a good fit for you, and I will offer some suggestions regarding more suitable professionals/organisations/services to contact.

Although we may chat about lots of different things during a session, if someone has clearly not been truthful in the booking form about the topic area that want to discuss and appear to have an ulterior motive in booking the session, I may choose to end the session. The same rule applies to a situation where someone is clearly not who they have stated they are in the booking form. 

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Is it all confidential?


es! Confidentiality is essential to a service like this and I will do everything in my power on my end to protect it.

Here is what I will do on my end; I will abide by GDPR guidelines and make every effort to keep all personal information relating to sessions safe. Booking requests and emails with a form attached/included will be retained for no more than 1 year. The form may be printed, and I may take notes before, during and after the session either by hand or typed. Forms, notes, and USB key will all be stored in a locked file safe in my home office. All forms and notes (hard and soft copies) will be deleted and/or destroyed after one year.  I will send you a Zoom Meeting ID and password before the session using the email address you have given me. I will use headphones and will be alone in a private space during all sessions. All  records of calls and video calls will be deleted after one year.

Please be mindful of what you choose to share within the session. I have an obligation to break confidentiality and report to Tusla and/or the Gardaí any disclosures of child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and other crimes.

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