My name is Paula Lovely but some people call me The Pride Goddess: my name has been associated to HIV/AIDS activism for a pretty long time now, I’d say it’s been quite a journey!
My diagnosis came unexpected when I was 23. I spent the following months wishing to die, I felt lost and the only oasis of peace was the sight of a tree, just beyond my window, which remained green even when I felt life slipping from my hands. When my test came back positive I was about to move abroad for a 1-year-long university exchange.
I gave that project up, but started volunteering in a network of LGBTQI+ People Living with HIV.
Eventually, we started the very first community-based testing centre of the country. Then I realised that we do so much talking about HIV prevention and care from a very clinical point of view, but we know nothing about how it feels to be living with HIV as human beings in societies: we miss public representation, visibility, political consistency. Our lives are mainly retold by others and the narrative on our bodies, feelings, experiences, needs and desires are often distorted or narrowed down to pure suffering and victimisation. No one tells the world about our resistance, power, beauty, strength.
When I moved to Portugal I found my own identity as an artist and started mixing up my activism with performance art, drag and music and I later joined the local committee of a municipal HIV initiative as a community representative, while, on the other side, I kept growing as an artist and advocating for the LGBTQI+ community. In 2019, I was invited to lead the LGBTQI+ Pride Parade in Lisbon as Grand Marshal.
The tree had resisted through many winters, and so would I.
Now I strive for HIV/AIDS representation in culture and arts as I think that’s where mentalities and imagery can actually be transformed, but I also keep advocating in the field of community work and collaborate with NGOs, artists and institutions to make sure our voices are heard in the public debate around HIV/AIDS.
My dream for the future is a stigma-free world, where more attention, love and dignity are for everyone and systemic oppression and all forms of discrimination are left in the past forever.
“We’d better be noisy, powerful, and beautiful / as our blossom is an emergency at this point” (b1oom, 2019)