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Smith honoured for HIV/AIDs work

Wed 31 Dec 2014 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback View at NDHA

Event director, performer, fundraiser and advocate Jonathan Smith is to be made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to people with HIV/AIDS. The award has been announced in this morning’s New Year’s Honours. “It is an honour to take up such an appointment on behalf of those people living with HIV and the over seven hundred people that have lost their lives in New Zealand due to this illness,” Smith tells GayNZ.com. “Some of those people left this world with humiliation, discrimination and an undignified death due to a lack of understanding and available medication.” He says while things have improved for the better, and medications have relabelled the illness from a death sentence to a chronic manageable illness, New Zealand’s infection rate is still rising, a sign that there is still ongoing complacency. “This is a continual challenge for the gay community and HIV/AIDS organisations,” he says. “One of our biggest enemies that cannot be fought with drugs is discrimination. We might have laws in place to protect people living with HIV however discrimination still affects many of us trying to live a normal life.” Smith’s official citation says he has been involved in “raising awareness, compassion, quality of care for and the self-esteem of people suffering HIV/AIDS since 1994”, when he disclosed his HIV positive status. He went on to be the first HIV positive person to Chair the New Zealand AIDS Foundation in 1998, and was involved in the first Red Ribbon Day street appeal. Smith has a long list of achievements. The creator of the Queen of the Whole Universe pageant was also the inaugural director of the Auckland Pride Parade, is a founding member of the Circle of Friends AIDS Memorial Garden, the Treatments Action Group and HIV couples’ support group Men Alongside. He created the Positive Career Service to help HIV positive people get back into work. In being named as an honour recipient, Smith has acknowledged the “fantastic work” conducted by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Positive Women and Body Positive. “Without their consistent commitment I am sure the level of discrimination and the infection rate would be far greater,” he says. Smith and husband Kevin Baker on their wedding day Smith lives in Auckland with husband Kevin Baker. The couple also moonlight as drag duo Buffy and Bimbo, who once infamously danced onstage with the Prime Minister at the Big Gay Out, a moment caught by TV cameras which has been repeated a number of times on the news. Baker and Smith became engaged on the day New Zealand’s marriage equality legislation passed, while they were on holiday in New York, and married in Auckland last year. Smith is full of praise for Baker’s effect on his life. “Since we first met twenty years ago, he has motivated and supported me and taught me unconditional love.” They also worked together on the Queen of the Whole Universe pageant, which began as Queen of the Whole Pacific in 2004. In nine years it raised more than $215,000 for HIV/AIDS charities. Smith has since turned it into Queen of the Whole Universe Community, a support network aimed at lifting the self-esteem of lgbti people, whose members are among those he is expressing thanks for today. “I’d especially like to thank my beautiful family, close friends, the QWU community of which there are over 500 members and the Circle of Friends founding trustees, who have all worked with me in my mission to raise funds, compassion, quality of care and awareness for people living from HIV. Without their support this would never have been possible,” he says. “I hope that since my diagnosis 21 years ago, my work educating and supporting people in our wider community has managed to prevent at least one new infection and enriched the lives and esteem of fellow people living with this virus.” Smith appears to be the first person to receive a New Zealand Honour specifically for services to people with HIV/AIDs. Others, such as longtime New Zealand AIDS Foundation researcher Tony Hughes, have received honours for community service, which included his work in the HIV/AIDS field.    

Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 31st December 2014 - 5:00am

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