Philip Christopher Baldwin’s story is one of triumph in the face of adversary. After being diagnosed with both HIV and Hepatitis C at the age of 24, Baldwin had to decide almost on the spot what he next life moves would be.
10 years on, Baldwin has used the wrought emotional power his disease imbued upon him and turned it into positive motivation. Now a columnist and activist, Philip writes about the power of focus and Christianity as well as campaigning for the rights of both the gay and HIV community.
Check out the transcription of his conversation with List For Life below.
1) I read your brilliant and moving piece for Huffington Post titled ‘Ten Years ago’ where you discussed your love for London. Would you ever consider moving somewhere else for personal or campaign reasons?
I really adore London. I love living here and always wanted to live in London since I was a child. In many ways I’m living my dream. I worked in NYC in 2011 when I was a lawyer. I love NYC as well. It’s really a 24 hour city, there are incredible museums, it’s so vibrant and the men are handsome. I like Miami and LA as well. Miami has a really cool vibe to it. I could sit on the beach all day and party all night in Miami. I recently had an amazing holiday in LA. I went to visit the Getty Centre. It looks out over LA like a twenty-first century acropolis. There’s a garden there by Robert Irwin, which I think must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The mixture of luscious vegetation, rich textures, metal, gravel, water and granite create a sensory banquet, an utterly unique environment.
2) Would you mind telling us how your friends and family played a role in helping you overcome your initial diagnosis?
My friends and family were really important in helping me overcome my diagnosis. I have a great network of friends and their support means a huge amount to me. The first person I told about my diagnosis was my friend Joe. He managed to calm me down a bit and gave me a little objectivity. My friend Anthony came with me to my first appointment at the HIV clinic. This was a traumatic time and I’m so fortunate that my friends were there for me. It was a while before I had the confidence to tell my parents about my HIV. They have been very supportive. At first it was hard for my mum to deal with. I had a half-brother who died and I think my mum was worried that I might die. Now they know that I am healthy and happy. I have a great medical team at the Royal London Hospital’s Grahame Hayton Unit supporting me as well.
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3) Can you explain your thoughts on using your ability to talk about your fragilities to empower yourself?
I have taken ownership of my HIV and have incorporated this into my identity. This was an empowering process. In 2010, shortly after my diagnosis, I started to do charity work, helping people living with HIV. I hosted for the incredible Terrence Higgins Trust at their autumn Supper Club in 2010. The THT is a wonderful charity and they have helped me develop so much as a person. My activism is increasingly touching on politics. I’m hosting an HIV event in parliament, which will examine how the stigma of HIV impacts women. I have also had an incredible journey with Christianity over the last two and a half years. I was previously an atheist or an agnostic. I very much believe that it is our flaws which make us beautiful. My HIV has made me a more beautiful person.
4) Would you consider fitness as being a crucial part of your journey as a inspiring figure?
I love training at the gym and staying healthy. I’m training five times a week at the moment. I have a sweet tooth and could eat chocolates and crisps all day, so it’s important I train at the gym. From the age of twenty-eight I noticed my metabolism changing and it’s frightening how quickly I put on weight. My physical appearance is of secondary importance though. It’s what is on the inside that matters.
5) What’s your next big project you’re currently working on?
I’ve got loads going on at the moment. I’ve got my HIV event in parliament coming up, which is really exciting. I’m hosting my annual HIV visibility dinner in June as well. I’ve been asked to write a chapter for a book, discussing the strength of my Christianity and the impact it has on my life. I’m working on a semi-autobiographical book on stigma called Positive Damage. I’m also going to be doing a big event around HIV and faith, which will be great. I’d like to work more on my faith message in 2016. I’d like to interest more gay men in Christianity. My Christianity is a never ending source of nourishment and I feel so enriched by faith. I would like more gay men to experience the beauty of faith.
6) You’ve been through the wringer emotionally and physically, what three pieces of advice would you give to any young people feeling at their lowest right now?
“You are a beautiful and wonderful person. Every person is unique and has a unique contribution to make. Your time will come!”
“Find support networks. This could mean family or friends, or it could be through charitable work, like when I was coming to terms with my HIV, or perhaps faith. Do not be afraid to reach out to the people around you!”
“Be authentic to yourself. When I came out as gay the acceptance I received from the people around me was so empowering. There was a similar process of acceptance when I came out more broadly about my HIV. Some of our fears are imaginary and by confronting them we become stronger people.”