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Jess

"I moved to London in 2018 to start working as a chef in a trendy East London restaurant. Since my diagnosis in 1999 I had not shared my HIV status with anybody apart from a very small number of hand-picked friends."

"Restaurant work is fast-paced with long hours and late shifts. I tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle and get enough sleep so at first, I avoided getting together with the other chefs for an after-work drink. But eventually, I got friendly with one of them, a Polish guy called Adam, and we started hanging out after work. I could see that he was unhappy and depressed so I asked him what was going on. He was very embarrassed and told me that he had a gambling problem that he was trying to keep secret. Just in order to make him feel better I shared my secret: my HIV status. And that did the trick! We carried on having drinks together and supporting each other in keeping our secrets from anybody else.

One morning I turned up at work after a day off and met Adam in the locker room. He was very upset and told me that the previous night he and the Head Chef had gone for drinks together after work. Adam had got very drunk and had told the Head Chef about my HIV status. I debated whether I should just pack up my stuff and leave there and then but decided not to. After all, I knew I wasn’t putting anyone at risk, I just assumed this would turn into a big issue. As soon as the Head Chef arrived he came to see me and asked if he could have a quiet word with me. We went and sat outside in the smoking area. He said “Adam told me you are HIV+. I have a cousin who is HIV+ so I know all about it. Just be careful using the knives.” And that was it. Part of me was hugely reassured: I still had a job! Part of me was annoyed that he should single me out to tell me to be careful using knives when that should be true of anybody working in the kitchen, regardless of their HIV status. But I was mostly relieved that he already knew about HIV.

Both the Head Chef and Adam respected my wish to keep my status to themselves and didn’t tell anybody else. My contract finished three months later, and I left knowing that it was actually ok to share that information with people."

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