'Redhill is not gay-friendly', says HIV campaigner
THE longest-surviving HIV sufferer in the UK said he was glad to leave Redhill after suffering abuse and segregation in the "not gay-friendly" town.
John Percy, 51, contracted HIV back in 1981, when doctors did not have a name for it, and as one of the country's longest survivors, has worked hard to raise awareness of the disease.
But as he moved to Cheltenham on Saturday he said he was shocked by the lack of acceptance in parts of Redhill, where he moved to after being assaulted in Brighton.
"I don't flaunt that I'm a gay man, I don't flaunt I'm HIV positive," he said. "Redhill is not a gay-friendly town. I think there are quite a lot of young gays in Redhill and there is nowhere for them to go for support.
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"When I moved to the area I was told it would be advisable for me not to tell anyone here that I was gay or HIV positive because it wouldn't go down well. That made me very angry."
The Mirror tried to contact the Reigate and Banstead LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Forum to discuss the issue.
But we discovered it was a scheme set up by Mr Percy, which he never managed to get off the ground due to lack of support.
"I have led a very lonely life," he said. "I have no support from my family, either."
As Mr Percy left his home in Bramley Close, Redhill, he said the lack of support shocked him.
"One of my neighbours is the only one who gave me any support with my HIV," he said. "I think a lot of people were pleased to see me go."
He found some support among the church community at St Matthew's, in Station Road, Redhill, where he was welcomed into the congregation, baptised and helped the community mark World Aids Day for the past three years.
Rev Andrew Cunnington said: "Being accepted was often a problem for John. I would like to think that our approach was very much an open door.
"We could draw upon his campaigning and his experiences to help us to engage with the issue of HIV and Aids."