Meet Jay Hawkridge, he began his career in journalism over a decade ago, and in that time he’s covered many areas of the music scene. In the years that followed he expanded his field of expertise to include covering social issues, particularly LGBT+ Rights. His career first began when he saw a tweet on social media advertising for fresh new voices to pitch ideas to a local publication.
Since then, he’s interned for Attitude magazine, which he continues to write as well as Dazed and Gay Times. During the national lockdown, it helped him understand his diagnosis. This year he hopes to see the release of his first podcast, It Takes One Time as well as his Sky Documentary, Positive
“It was the pause of the first lockdown that was imperative in my understanding and reacting to my HIV diagnosis”
So, what was it about journalism that first attracted you to the profession?
I’ve been reading magazines for as long as I can remember. It started with Pokémon, and as soon as I hit my teenage years, I started getting an interest in popular culture. My mum’s copies of Grazia, and Cosmopolitan, were always in the bathroom, so whenever I had a bath, I’d be sitting in there, browsing.
As I got a little older, I ventured into Men’s Health and found a love for fitness, and then, I graduated to buying my very first copy of Attitude. I was in an ASDA, and I used the self-checkout, as I didn’t feel comfortable enough to go to a person at the time. I remember being so scared at the time that I’d be stopped and questioned, as I was under sixteen and it was classed as an ‘adult mag’.
Did you ever go down the college/uni route?
I did! I originally studied Marketing and Advertising at MMU, for a total of one lesson. I soon transferred closer to home, to York St John to continue my life-long passion for English Literature and Creative Writing, as a combined degree.
In my second year of study, I moved to Birmingham, so I could base myself closer to London to look for internships with publications; my first being at Attitude, which was a real full-circle moment. I ended up PA’ing directly for Robbie Williams during my time there, at the Attitude Awards, which was quite the introduction to the industry; again, I was terrified at the time, but I did it.
Did you feel that many real-life stories needed to be told?
Since growing up, especially with the way that social media has changed in recent years, it’s been heartwarming to see how many people have started speaking up about their personal experiences.
Since downloading Tik Tok in late 2020, I’ve stumbled onto so many wonderful and admiral individuals who have extraordinary tales to tell, and are doing so, on the app. The way it can become a diary for someone, in real-time, is truly wonderful, and connecting with people who are doing so has made me look at life completely differently.
You first began reporting on the music scene, how did you go from that to Lifestyle and Gay Rights?
It was quite the culture shock; I found out in late 2019 that I was living with HIV, and for a few months battled with this, quite off-the-radar, until I became public with my status to my friends and family through social media in summer 2020, just at the end of the first lockdown.
I soon started sharing my story with charities and organizations, and it kind of snowballed. I documented my journey in real-time on Tik Tok, responding to peoples’ comments and questions, and (a lot of the time) disapproving that someone is confident and public with their status.
It was a harsh introduction to a realization that a lot of people disagreed with me, for either ignorance or homophobia, or stigma towards HIV itself, but I soon realized that it was something that needed addressing more. I’d gone my whole life barely hearing of HIV, never having anybody feel confident enough to share their status with me, and, upon becoming public, had to educate everybody I knew on what HIV was.
And are you still writing about music?
I do, sometimes. I only write about artists and music I connect with, so it’s rare, but it’s nice to keep the passion alive. Music is and will always be the grounding of my soul, what makes me tick.
Now, you’re also a passionate advocate when it comes to the subject of HIV/AIDS, how much would you say that your own experiences motivate this?
Completely so. The journey I’ve taken wouldn’t have been as difficult if there had been a template baseline of education around HIV at school, for instance, and if it was more normalized in society and conversation, it wouldn’t continually be so challenging in approaching friendships and relationships.
With every person I meet, I have to weigh up their perception of HIV, and ‘come out with my status; it’s fatiguing. And it’s not even my weight to bear. If me raising awareness about my experience is going to help provide education, support people living with HIV, and contribute to the prevention, it’s the least I can do.
Do you think that social attitudes towards HIV/AIDS have changed or do you think that more could be done?
I do find it quite shocking the response I receive both online and in-person about my journey with HIV. For example, a lot of people are ‘accepting’ of my sexuality, but ‘draw the line’ at my HIV status, even from people within the LGBTQI+ community, which baffles me.
In a broader sense, the overall education around HIV & AIDS is barely any. Unless you know of someone who is/was living with either, or works in a field related to them, it’s likely you’ll know little, or your information will be outdated. It’s just extra stress to someone living with HIV/AIDS that they shouldn’t have to bear.
And like many journalists, they also have a story that they want to tell. Was that one of your motivations?
In all honesty, I didn’t even realize what I was doing, when I was doing it. In my head at first, I simply wanted to share something with my friends and family, that I’d made peace with after a journey of struggle in recent months.
It was the response and encouragement I received that spurred me to keep talking, and as my platform started to grow, the resistance also lit a fire. Suddenly strangers all over the world were disapproving of my reality, my very existence. I’m from Yorkshire, I’m not one to back down from that.
Numerous reporters began their careers by either pitching stories to local/national publications or covering local events via website/blogging. How did you start?
I started by pitching an article to tmrw mag, with who I’ve now written seven cover story interviews, to date. I’d written for fun for years, sometimes throwing it on a small music blog of my design, or keeping it on my hard drive. I only had the confidence to pitch it because an editor advertised on Twitter that they were looking for fresh voices. That one accepting pitch changed the course of my life; if anyone’s on the fence about making a similar move, I say go for it. My entire career is a result of that one email.
Also, you are a passionate LGBT+ Activist, how do you feel about such related issues when you write about them and read other stories about them?
In recent years, especially since becoming public with my status, I’ve become more aware of issues facing our community. I come from a small town and felt on the sidelines for so long. My HIV story was the opening to an entire community of people who embraced and accepted me, who also had their own stories of struggle. I became so aware that there was so much going on and really began to see the importance of standing up together against injustice.
Another issue that’s come into focus again is the issue of Transphobia. Seeing as the social issues surrounding Gay Rights are practically the same in regards to attitudes by society how do you feel about it?
Honestly, I’m appalled but not surprised, unfortunately, at this point in the stance, many in the country seem to be taking against the rights of trans people. So many who cannot and do not understand or even begin to see things from the perspective of someone who identifies as trans, trying to force their ignorance not just into the lives of trans people but into society as a whole?
It’s barbaric. The nativity to think that their perspective of the world is how everyone feels, and to impose that upon people; if they don’t understand, listen. What trans people need right now, more than ever, is support, strength, and solidarity from us all.
We need to be amplifying trans voices where they’d like to, and safeguarding their confidence, and courage; not even as a community, but as people, it’s our duty to look out for one another. It’s not always so easy to see the oppressors, and the safest way that we can activate quick change and support is to continually hammer the message that they are supported, they are valid, and they are just as deserving as every right to anybody else.
It’s hard to frame it without sounding reductionist because, in my perspective, it’s basic human rights. It’s quite mesmerizing to try and word when you don’t really understand the root of transphobia at all.
During your journalism career, you’ve written for publications such as Dazed, Gay Times, and Attitude. How did those writing gigs come about and are there any differences between them in regards to their style and readership?
A lot of freelance work comes with relentless and detached pitching; the idea you have has to align at the exact time as a publication or editor thinks it is worthwhile, and that’s a struggle. You have to learn a thick skin to be in the industry, but to say that it’s just that would be false. Over the years I’ve naturally crossed paths and found my way to a few incredible, admirable people in journalism and media, who have either introduced me to others or otherwise. I’m incredibly lucky to have people who suggest my name when I’m not in the room; coming from a real working-class background, it amazes me daily that I’ve made it so far already.
We’re officially out of lockdown from the Covid pandemic, how much of an impact did that have on your career in regards to interviewing and covering events?
The pandemic completely altered my personal and professional lives. It was the pause of the first lockdown that was imperative in my understanding and reacting to my HIV diagnosis.
In regards to events, it was quite the flatline. I had just started covering live gigs and had recently covered Defected’s 2019 Croatia Festival as my first international role. I had a good summer lined up, but, looking back, I’m definitely grateful for the path my journey has taken.
Something I’d like to mention is your documentary series with Sky, ‘Positive’. Can you tell us what it’s about and how it came about?
I was approached by Arrow Media, the team behind the doc, last spring (2021). They were so engaged and passionate about the doc, and as someone who was relatively new to their journey with HIV, I was honored to be asked.
It was a beyond fun and cathartic experience; a rare chance for me to discuss myself in an open space where I felt others could understand what I was going through. Normally, I was, in my own space, the person who knew the most about HIV. To be the one who most likely knew the least, was refreshing.
It was a beautiful experience, and to be part of something that is a valuable and needed resource, part of the UK’s 40-year history with HIV, is something I’ll be humbled for the rest of my life.
And you’re doing a podcast as well, ‘It Takes One Time’. Tell us more about it
The podcast idea for It Takes One Time started organically; I found myself repeating the title phrase quite a bit in my Tik Tok videos and activism, and gradually the meaning extended into a metaphor for discovery and identity.
I originally planned to make it a solo venture, but, after what feels like extensive time on myself, I realized that I could extend this into other areas of life. Street-smarts, things we should have received core education but haven’t; things that, all too often, we have to learn on our own.
I’m currently in the process of seeking funding/sponsorship to be able to bring a number of guests to co-host individual episodes with me; telling their stories, and sharing themselves. Think everything from mental health to substance usage, to gender identity, and sexuality. Life-changing stories, honest conversation, told delicately and respectfully.
I think it could inspire real change.
Where can we hear it?
I’m hoping to get it off the ground this year, so keep posted!
Listen here – b-plus.co.uk/hiv-essentials-podcast
Do you have a site where people can view your work?
I do. I’ve recently launched BPlus, which stands for Be Positive, a hub for culture & community that I’m using to extend my activism and work beyond myself. My portfolio is available there, as part of the story of BPlus, with links to charity work, written journalism, and media such as podcast features, the Sky doc, etc.
And finally, what else can we expect from you for the rest of 2022?
I’m excited to build beyond my story, now that I feel I’ve dealt with my own experience, and to give stages to voices of peers, and people I’ve been lucky enough to find on this journey.
I hope to launch the It Takes One Time Podcast and begin to build a new collection of vital resources while expanding the BPlus platform to work with more charities and organizations. I’d love to branch out into public speaking and bring myself to educational institutions, all the way from schools to universities.
I feel like my entire life unto now, strange as it may seem, has been preparing me for something like this. I have, somehow, managed to equip myself with the tools, and career & life experience to be in a position where I feel not just comfortable, but confident to act real change. I’ve never felt potential like this, and I’ve never had as much connection to the work I’ve done, as I do right now.
I just wanna say I did my best, you know?
For more details – jayhawkridge.com