The new hit TV show “It’s a Sin” premiered on the 22nd January, and after only a few weeks of its release has been streamed more than 6.5 million times. The show follows the lives of a group of young friends living in London over a period of ten years – beginning in 1981 and ending in 1991 – portraying what it was like to grow up as an LGBTQA+ individual during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. The series is one of friendship, love, injustice and heartache and is growing in popularity for its frank candidness and poignancy.
With National HIV Testing week having just passed, it seems more timely than ever to reflect upon the incredibly important impact the show has made on its viewers. The series quickly evolves, depicting the real trauma and loss suffered by many young people who were themselves, or knew someone who was, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS during the 1980s and 90s. Although tears are plentiful during the inevitable lows of each episode, there are also so many highs throughout which you feel privileged to experience alongside this group of young friends.
The series has thankfully aired during a time where HIV is manageable and no longer a death sentence, but sadly perpetual stigma surrounding the illness still remains. One clear take away from this programme is the need to break down the stigma associated with HIV. During the epidemic the characters live through, they are isolated and excluded from society because of their “gay disease”, which we now ultimately know led to so many young people not getting tested initially, or not receiving the treatment they needed.
It’s a Sin aims to raise awareness to the disease and in turn diffuse stigmatisation of people living with HIV. Actors in the show have used their position to spread awareness, advocate for regular testing and further enhance people’s understanding and perceptions of HIV and AIDS. The show’s characters were not afforded the chance to develop their understanding of the disease before it was too late, but now we have these facilities they should be used to our full advantage, and nobody should live in fear or shame of having HIV again.
The show has also given a platform to those who are currently living with HIV to reach out to others, to those who need to access treatment and testing, and for everyone else to sit back and take notes on how they can demonstrate strong allyship for LGBTQA+ people.
It’s a Sin also highlights the importance of friendship and allyship throughout the entire series. The companionship and strength each character offered one another throughout their friendship was something we should all aspire to. One character who has received attention for her unwavering support as an ally is Jill; she has been taken to so warmly that #BeMoreJill has been circulating Twitter since the show premiered. Jill is one of the main characters in the series, and although her story isn’t described in as much depth as the other characters, you still know she is just as central to the story as anybody else. Her character helps to depict the strong sense of companionship and allyship that was so desperately needed among the group to get through the suffering they faced throughout the series.
The small friendship group in the show helps puts into context the extent to which AIDS affected everyone in the LGBTQA+ community during the epidemic. Real friendship groups, much like this fictional one, were torn apart by the disease. We must continue to acknowledge those who died of AIDS in secret due to the shame and stigma surrounding the disease and those who silently grieved for loved ones.
Importantly, this show finally tells the real life stories of so many people who have died of AIDS. It brings to life the fear and shame that young gay people lived in for so long, while also giving insight into the wonderful lives they lived despite it all. It shows the fun they had, the friends they made and the lives they lived to their fullest – the characters in It’s a Sin have an infectious love for life even in their darkest moments.
The series has allowed communities of people to come together on social media to share pictures and stories as a way of celebrating the lives of those closest to them who they lost to AIDS – some friends, some lovers, all family. AIDS was the killer of so many young people with so much life left to live, and that is why it is so important that we never again allow people living with HIV to endure the same stigmatisation as those portrayed in It’s a Sin.