For Andy Bell, one half of synth-pop outfit Erasure, COVID-19 is the second healthcare crisis to have dramatically shifted his worldview.
The 55-year-old lead singer of the ‘English synth-pop outfit Erasure’ known for his soulful voice and flamboyant stage persona sees parallels between the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the trauma caused by HIV/AIDS at its peak.
“COVID was acted upon pretty quickly, whereas the AIDS thing wasn’t at all,” Bell reflects.
“AIDS was denied. It was purposefully denied because it was about gay men, and drug takers, and Africa. It’s still the same. Anybody can get HIV, I know that, but it’s still perceived in the same way. Because it’s to do with sex, in some way it’s seen as being dirty, it’s seen as being your own fault.”
Bell says that during the AIDS crisis, and now with COVID-19, queer people are unable to experience sexual hook-ups, intimacy, and socialising, but desire for these things is only strengthened by the challenges presented.
He believes that the HIV/AIDS epidemic caused a drastic tide of homophobia that still affects survivors even today. “I remember reading an article asking teenagers how they felt about gay men. In the beginning it said they were clean, and they look really nice, and they’re really neat.
When the HIV thing happened, everything was ripped from beneath you and we were the pariahs. We had to rebuild our own lives as we were losing others from scratch,” Bell says.
According to Bell, AIDS still persists today because the government refuses to place emphasis on finding a vaccine.
“Still to this day, it isn’t recognised. There’s no government body anywhere that recognises it as a pandemic.There’s no organisation, that’s why you have the Elton John Aids Foundation and the Terrence Higgins Trust raising money, because there are no governmental agencies raising money or putting money aside for HIV and AIDS, which I think is disgraceful,” he says.
One particularly pertinent connection Bell draws between then and now is about inclusivity. How HIV leaves sufferers outside of a more conventional queer group, much like, the Test and Trace NHS service around Covid-19 will.
“I’m suspicious about track and trace, it is going to end up being a club. You’re either in or you’re out. You’ve either got it, or you’ve had it,” Bell added.
Bell’s overall message is that the fear and misunderstanding that persists over HIV/AIDS is a destructive force still splintering the LGBTQ+ community. He believes that as with any health crisis such as Covid-19 or HIV, a greater understanding of the facts is the starting block to better mental and physical health, and helps people cope.
The singer has taken on a new role, schooling younger people about resilience in the face of adversity and offering support about HIV+ statuses in the age of Covid-19.
“I’ve had to be like an auntie, put my arms around them and say: ’Honey, you’re going to be okay, I promise you. They think it’s the end of the world, you know?” Bell concluded.