The Sitges Meetings Series: The Story behind an Obsession

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Growing up in Ciutat Meridiana in the late 70s was not easy, let alone for a gay teenager. The neighbourhood was, and still is, the North end of the city of Barcelona, hastily built in the late 50s in an area considered too humid to place a cemetery. The low-cost blocks were meant to accommodate the increasing waves of people from Southern Spain migrating to the big city searching for work and a hopeful future for themselves and their offspring. But what they found and reproduced was work exploitation, extreme poverty, violence against women and children, and extended use of alcohol and injecting heroin. If you want to have a parallelism to get yourself an idea about it, revert to the low-income Glasgow pictured by Stuart Douglas or the declining industrial France by Edouard Louis.

After a long period of inner battle for self-acceptance, I finally came out when I was 18 years old. At that time, I had the unconditional love and support of my mother (my father, who often expressed himself as a blatant homophobic, had passed away three years earlier), and the revered respect of the rest of the family – at the end of the day, I was the only of the 16 cousins who had made it to the University to become a lawyer. Still, I could not help but feel that I could not be myself 100% when I was with them, and I knew I had to look elsewhere to meet others who could help me build my own identity.

It did not take much until I found a bunch of gay men and lesbians engaged in the Front of Gay Liberation of Catalonia (FAGC), which was not only my first activism school but also the seed of what it would become my second, chosen family based on mutual support, joint learning experiences and deep love bonds. It was the second half of the 80s, and I was intensively enjoying youth, combining part time work, studies, militancy and, yes, partying. Of course, media talked about AIDS, most often in a very stigmatising way, but I did not perceive it, or did not want to perceive it, closer to my life.

That changed in the early 90s: the virus had spread that much that you could not ignore it anymore. Progressively, an increasing number of friends and acquaintances were diagnosed, became ill and eventually died. My chosen family, the one that was fundamentally sustaining my emotional life and who I was, was jeopardised and at the edge of disappearing. I knew I myself could disappear.

This is when I joined the local chapter of ACT UP BCN, my second activism school. I could say that the main driver that ignited my AIDS militancy was the firm political and moral values I developed in defence of the life of LGBT communities, and I would not be lying. But I do also know that my commitment may not have happened without a strong feeling that I was also fighting for the survival of people that made my life to have a sense.

Before I was 30 years old, HIV activism naturally became a central part of my personal world, and then since 1997, of my professional career. That year I co-founded gTt-VIH, an HIV treatment Spanish organisation meant to help people living with HIV to decide if, when and with what to start antiretroviral therapy (the days of test and treat were still to come). 1997 was also the year I became an EATG member.

These two organisations, EATG and gTt, were the ones that made possible the launch of the Sitges Meetings series to advance the study of and access to new Hepatitis C (HCV) antivirals for people living with HIV and with HCV co-infection. The extraordinary (sorry for not being modest) impact of those meetings gathering activists, researchers, regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies to find a solution for life-threatening liver disease in people living with HIV has been reported in a documentary available online. There is little else I could add to what is eloquently said in that movie.

What I wanted is to draw your attention to the first few minutes of the film: an inserted old footage extract from the closing session of one of the first Sitges meetings shows me repeating, in broken English, that my obsession behind organising the workshop was because I did not want my friends, the people I loved, to die.

You now know why.


Joan Tallada

EATG member | Independent Consultant

by Joan Tallada

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