House of Lords Speaker quits early to campaign on HIV after watching It's a Sin

The Speaker in the House of Lords is quitting early so he can campaign on HIV/AIDS after watching hit Channel 4 show It’s A Sin.

Lord Norman Fowler was Conservative Health Secretary for six years in the 1980s when the disease emerged in the UK and spread fear through the gay community.

He was the minister responsible for a major public health campaign, including the 1987 TV advert that featured a tombstone reading: “AIDS. Don’t die of ignorance”.

The 83-year-old peer was due to step down from the woolsack this year.

But he brought forward his retirement so he could devote his parliamentary activity to campaigning in the wake of the Friday night drama, penned by screenwriter Russell T Davies, which gripped viewers this winter.

Lord Fowler said: “Channel 4 have just shown an excellent and moving drama series on the impact of AIDS here in the UK in the 1980s, called It’s a Sin.

He pioneered the 'Don't die of ignorance' campaign in the 1980s
He pioneered the ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ campaign in the 1980s

“In those days a HIV-positive diagnosis was a virtual death sentence.

“The drama showed the cruel consequences on the victims and their families.

“We need to remember that these are the very consequences being faced today in many countries overseas and we have an important duty to ensure their suffering is never forgotten.”

Lord Fowler was the Health Secretary under Margaret Thatcher who was charged with shaping the Government’s response to the crisis.

The “tombstone” campaign was credited with raising awareness of the disease, and encouraging affected people to take greater measurers to protect themselves and others.

The cast of hit Channel 4 drama It's A Sin
The cast of hit Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin

Lord Fowler said: “As an independent backbencher, I now want devote my energies to continue campaigning on HIV/AIDS.

“Around the world we have lost the lives of around 35 million men, women and children since the onset of that pandemic.

“Moreover, there are examples beyond count of the persecution of LGBT people worldwide.

“Even now in 2021, there are some 70 nations where homosexuality is illegal and where there are obvious barriers against people coming forward for HIV/AIDS related treatment.

“So, I want to spend the next years campaigning against these modern evils and trying to support the many individuals and organisations in the field who are working to turn the tide.”

Paying tribute to his counterpart in the Upper Chamber, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle highlighted Lord Fowler’s “incredible 50 years of continuous service in politics” and the “many great advances he has achieved during that time”.

Sir Lindsay added: “His decision to step down as Lord Speaker to continue his relentless campaign for awareness of HIV and AIDS is commendable.

“I am in no doubt that his ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ awareness campaign when he was Health Secretary was a life saver, in that it showed his grasp of the enormity of the AIDS epidemic at a time when gay sex was a taboo topic.”


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