DUP man: I revealed my HIV ignorance to combat stigma

Sir Elton John, pictured earlier this year, has criticsed Trevor Clarke
Sir Elton John, pictured earlier this year, has criticsed Trevor Clarke

The DUP MLA who has come under fire from Elton John for his past ignorance of HIV has said he is being attacked for his honesty.

During a debate at Stormont on Wednesday, Trevor Clarke revealed that he had been unaware HIV also affects heterosexual people.

At the time, only People Before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann questioned his comments.

But since then, the DUP politician has been rounded on by a number of people – including Sir Elton.

Mr Clarke told the News Letter on Friday: “I’m being attacked for being honest. It’s missing the point of what a large part of the debate was about – raising awareness and breaking down stigma.”

Mr Clarke and two fellow DUP MLAs had proposed the Stormont discussion to raise the profile of HIV and promote the work of Positive Life, a charity which helps people living with HIV in the Province.

Elton John

Elton John

Mr Clarke said: “Before meeting Jacquie Richardson of Positive Life I was ignorant of the fact that the disease also affects heterosexual people. She opened my eyes.”

The 49-year-old health committee member added: “My comments were made in good faith. No political parties had a pop other than Eamonn McCann during the debate.”

Coverage since then, he said, had “turned what should have been a positive, good story into a bad story”.

Then on Friday, Sir Elton John got involved saying it was “no surprise” that myths around HIV still exist.

Trevor Clarke MLA.

Trevor Clarke MLA.

He used the South Antrim MLA’s comments as an example, asking Mr Clarke: “What planet are you living on?”

“I’ll get over it,” said the DUP politician.

“I’ll let Elton John’s comments go. Organisations like National Aids Trust have come out and said that two in five people have the same opinion.

“They’ve used my comments as an example in a positive way, the way they were intended.

“I’m pleased that organisations like this can recognise the value of honesty when it comes to raising awareness.”

During a debate on Radio Ulster’s Talkback yesterday Mr Clarke came in for a lot of criticism from people who believed as an elected representative he should not have been ignorant of the fact HIV also affects heterosexuals.

He has been defended by Jacquie Richardson, chief executive of Positive Life, who said: “We must ensure that his comments earlier this week in the Assembly are not taken out of context and that it is known that he has been extremely helpful in getting the positive message out there.”

A DUP spokesperson said: “Trevor was highlighting the need for public awareness by being honest about his own misunderstandings in the past. That’s the very outcome this public awareness campaign is trying to achieve.

“He was honest enough to admit his failings, something which it’s often said politicians don’t do enough.”

Since the debate on Wednesday it has emerged that, in an email exchange with a constituent, fellow DUP man Sammy Wilson had said other diseases “have not received the same attention as AIDS and which affect far more people”, and which were “not always as a result of lifestyle choices”.

Fellow DUP MLA Paula Bradley reportedly responded by saying Mr Wilson’s remarks had “caused controversy and I can understand that”.