To celebrate LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari is publishing a daily series of LGBT Heroes, selected by the magazine’s team of writers and special contributors.
Jim Akers – HIV Awareness Campaigner & Educator
by Bryon Fear
When Jim Akers was 20 he was told that he was HIV-positive. It was 1990. At the time the average life expectancy of someone living with HIV was 8-12 years. Living with HIV. Despite believing that he may very well not see his 30th birthday, Jim decided to take that phrase and embody it and live life to its fullest.
He took to the road and travelled from town to city, from city to state and soaked up all the rich experiences along the way. But this wasn’t just a self-serving exercise. During this time he spoke to groups that were at risk from HIV – sexually active teenagers, prostitutes, prisoners and needle users. He also began a support group for HIV-positive young adults.
When the internet sparked into life in the mid ‘90s, Jim was one of its earliest adopters and began Jimagery a blog in which he took his experience of living with HIV to a greater, international audience. It was through this site that I came to learn about HIV in a very real and human way. My preconceptions about HIV, formed out of the terrorizing poster campaigns in the ‘80s, were shattered. Jim’s blog gave HIV a human face and not only for me. The blog was hugely successful, and it was at the time one of the most popular sites on the entire internet. In 1999, Jim visited me in London, and in a single afternoon I learnt more about HIV than I had in 15 years of NHS posters & literature or THT campaigns. It struck me that during his years of touring with his HIV lecture, Jim must have educated literally thousands of people, and those experiences that he had laid so nakedly bare rippled out through the lives he had touched.
I have been in awe of Jim’s remarkable energy and enthusiasm since. Even now, 14 years later, he is still applying his time and energy to the cause. He is currently in training to take part in the AIDS Lifecycle, a project which requires Jim and his fellow teammates to cycle 545 miles in 7 days. In this venture he has already raised over $9,000 and has become an ALC Team captain. He continues to amaze me.
Jim has taken his HIV status and turned it into a code by which he lives his life, and I think that is not only admirable, but truly inspiring.