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Lesbian couple say close friends would keep AIDS diagnosis secret in the 80s

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A lesbian couple have revealed how the AIDS pandemic caused rising stigma and fear in the LGBT community.

Helen Juffs, 53, first met Deirdre Figueiredo, 55, when she was just 19 years-old starting at a new job in Nottingham and quickly fell in love.

The couple moved to Kings Heath, Birmingham to start their life together before being one of the first same-sex couples to get married in 2014 when gay marriage was legalised.

When their love story began in the 80s, neither of them had had a same-sex relationship before and had come out in the middle of the pandemic falsely portrayed as being a 'gay plague' in which they lost close friends they made in the city.

Helen said: "I think there was a very different approach from society to gay men and lesbians.

 
Helen and Diedre married in 2014 when gay marriage was legalised in the UK.

"I think in some senses, I think gay men have a harder time, and I think AIDS made even worse, it made people see gay men as a threat.

 

"By the time we met, the worst of the treatment for AIDS patients had past but we did make friends with a gay couple and they really helped us accept ourselves and he was really supportive.

"One of them they became HIV positive and died from AIDS in 93. So, and even at that point, they were reluctant to actually share even with their closest friends what was happening.

"I think by the late 80s, there was more of an education, you know, more, there were more people in the gay community being encouraged to have safer sex.

"Some of those campaigns were more effective later on, was starting to be more effective. But it was, there was still a lot of stigma around it.

"People were still afraid to touch or hug patients with a lack of understanding but it's much different now.

"There was a lack of information. I think that you know, one of the big things in the 80s to now is, you know, now you just Google it, get your phone out your pocket and google it, you don't have to wait and look it up on a computer."

In the 80s it was wrongly believed that HIV only affected gay men despite it being an infection that can be contracted by anyone who comes into contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.

This belief that was spread through media channels with the harrowing tombstone advert circulating from Thatcher's government caused stigma against the LGBT community.

However, Helen and Diedre face stigma both inside and outside of the LGBT community.

Helen told Birmingham Live that the reclamation of the word 'queer' helped her to feel more comfortable describing her own identity as describing her self as bisexual was frowned upon.

 

Helen and Diedre met and fell in love in 1989.

She said: "Our relationship wasn't the first time we've all fallen or had feelings for women, but nothing has come of them before.

"I don't think either of us was confident enough in those in the situations that we found ourselves to push further, but this is the first time that we did.

"I turned 18 in 1985 and that was in a quite anti-gay culture with AIDS going round and Section 28 at university. We didn't have any gay role models - the only real gay references I had was from John England in 'Are You Being Served?' which is very stereotypical.

"A big thing for us both was that we weren't only attracted to women and not men and the only word that was available to us was bisexual and that was looked down on by everybody because they'd be like 'make up your mind.'

"You want the best of both worlds, so, that didn't feel very comfortable. It's only since the community reclaimed the word queer that I've felt more comfortable with that as a definition.

"I think if you haven't got the vocabulary to express what you are, but to be really committed, what you how you feel about yourself."

Despite it being over 30 years since the pair met, Deidre said the couple still have to keep their guard up when out in public, claiming that section 28 - the law that was in place to prevent the 'promotion of homosexuality in schools' is a factor.

She said: "In public, we're still always on our guard, I don't think you'd ever get over that fact, of not being not feeling completely comfortable, because of the age we are.

"Having experienced those experiences in the 80s that were very hostile towards the idea of being gay, especially with section 28, I don't think you can ever come out properly.

"We are very careful about holding hands in public, there's still homophobic behaviour around that you can never be totally off your guard."

Helen and Deidre revealed their personal story to We Found Love In The 80s, which includes a Valentine’s Day podcast featuring interviews with other couples who met during the 80s.

For more information on the podcast visit the We Found Love in the 80s website.

You can watch It's A Sin fero.tips

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