HOMOPHOBIA CAN BE DEADLY.
There was no room for gay people in the village where Markus came from. Once his foster parents worked out that their ward liked men, they kept him under observation 24 hours a day - they wouldn't even let him make phone calls. Three days later Markus found himself in a children's home, and then in a young people's shared flat under care.
That was progress, though: "Sure, I got the odd anti-gay insult, but basically I was fine there," Markus remembers. He could finally get to know men without being bothered. At this point, he hardly knew anything about HIV and Aids. Why would he? His foster family certainly never discussed things like that, and the young gay flatmate's sexuality wasn't an issue in the apartment - let alone at school.
"I always had to fight for myself"
Markus was diagnosed with HIV at 18, when he was already seriously ill. For two years he had suffered strong bleeding and horrific pain in his jaw. Several teeth had been pulled, but doctors couldn't work out was wrong with him until Markus, utterly desperate, tried another dentist. That one knew immediately: "You either have leukaemia or Aids," he told Markus. The HIV test came back positive.
For Markus, the moment of that diagnosis felt like the end: "My head was just empty at first," he said. "Then came the thought that my life was over now, and I would just die any minute."
But Markus wanted to live. He decided to be bold and out himself to his friends. Some kept their distance, but that only strengthened the relationship with others. Two even appeared alongside him on a poster when Markus became one of the faces of the "Living Together Positively" ad campaign. The larger-than-life-size pictures were posted on billboards and bus stops. Through the campaign postcards left out in the cinema where Markus worked, his colleagues found out he had HIV.
"I always had to fight for myself anyway," was how Markus explained his participation once. "By being open about my infection I'm fighting for other sufferers too. And maybe I can contribute to getting people better informed, so that there's more information out there than before."
Markus' main issue was always discrimination. He'd always experienced ostracism, hostility, and recrimination, both for being gay and for being HIV-positive. He heard abuse like "it's your own fault, you Aids queer" often enough. During a job interview he was once asked how anyone was supposed to take on someone like him - after all, his colleagues wouldn't even be able to use the same cutlery box. And some so-called friends turned their backs on him because they thought there was no point keeping the relationship going: "He's not going to live much longer anyway..."
"One day I'm going to dance on the grave of anyone who thinks that," Markus thought to himself. "You're not getting rid of me that easy."
The rejection hurt, but Markus didn't let it break him. He proved to himself and everyone around him that you can live a beautiful, energetic life with HIV. His friends and fellow campaigners knew him as a funny, friendly guy who always knew what he wanted.
"I'm not that little round thing with knobs on"
Markus also worked with the gay campaign I KNOW WHAT I'M DOING to promote respect for HIV-positive people. He never understood how members of an oppressed minority could sometimes be so intolerant themselves. Markus wouldn't accept that. He wanted respect. And he wanted HIV-positive people to learn to stand up for themselves.
His message was very simple: The important thing isn't the virus, it's the human being. "I'm not some little round thing with knobs on," he said - he never lost his sense of humour.
Markus' dedication gave a lot of people strength. For more than ten years he lived a self-confident, fun-loving life with the virus. Then he developed cancer, probably because his HIV treatment had come much too late. Markus died in November 2012 at the age of 32.
But his positive presence still shines today, and lives on in many of his former companions. Anyone who sees Markus' picture on the campaign poster can sense it too.
Thank you, Markus - we'll never forget you!