Jean-Luc Romero-Michel: “Discovering my HIV status gave me a taste for life and for others. »

- through Fabrice Groult

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Deputy mayor of the XNUMXth arrondissement of Paris, regional councilor for Ile-de-France and ambassador of an "Ile-de-France without AIDS", Jean-Luc Romero-Michel talks about AIDS, homosexuality, religious dogma, politics, the Tibetan cause, but also the Dalai Lama's word of peace. No jargon in this man of combat… of ideas.

In your various works and your numerous forums on the subject of AIDS, you tell how discovering your HIV status gave you a taste for life and that of others. Can you detail?

Facing reality is the only way to truly live, because when you run away from problems, they come back. When I learned my HIV status in 1987, at the age of 28, this news sounded like a death sentence! What to do after such an announcement? It seemed obvious to me: I simply returned to my work as a parliamentary assistant. I continued to live, to have a social life – certainly different because of the disease – and above all, I took care of others. Somehow, I forgot about my own disease when I took care of others. At the time, around me, it was a real hecatomb… I was thus able to observe that, very often, it is people who suffer from serious pathologies and who assume it who come out of it. We cannot generalize, but the fact of not being afraid of the disease, of not being ashamed to talk about it – a disease is never shameful! – and paying attention to others changes the way we look at ourselves and the disease. Which helps to get better.

Most Buddhists show kindness to the sick, including people with HIV. Some Buddhist representatives, however, refer to homosexuality as "sexual misconduct". On this level, the position of the Dalai Lama has evolved in recent years. What inspires you?

All religions have had a problem with sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular. But Buddhism is the least stigmatizing, it does not point the finger at the other, as is often the case in monotheistic religions which forget that a homosexual is first and foremost a human being! I notice that the Dalai Lama has always had a word of love and benevolence towards all beings, whatever they may be. I also find wonderful and constructive for each of us, the Buddhist idea of ​​working to always improve, to transform. This vision pushes us to reinvent ourselves, rather than promising ourselves hell.

“Buddhism is the least stigmatizing religion, which does not point the finger at the other, as we see in other traditions which have a terrible time understanding that a homosexual is first and foremost a human being. ! »

As a teenager, I was a Catholic by tradition, I had a few convictions, then, little by little, I moved away from the Church. The real break took place when I contracted HIV: the notion of good and evil of the Catholic religion, the Church's considerations on homosexuals - at the time, we heard this type of reflection: "The AIDS, homosexuals have sought it! -, all these speeches were unbearable to me. I found myself overnight excluded from this religion and lost in a way. However, in life, we all need some form of spirituality. I'm not a practicing Buddhist, but it's true that this philosophy, or this religion – both approaches are possible – brings me comfort.

Politics is a relatively violent world, subject to constant power struggles. Is Buddhism a help for you, to work in this environment, on a daily basis?

He could be, but I have mostly learned from the hardships I have encountered in my life, such as contracting HIV and the sudden death of my husband Christophe in May 2018. My friend Céline Menguy (1) guides me a little in this universe of Buddhism, I attended teachings with her. I haven't done any retreats yet, but I'm thinking about it more and more. I also do a bit of meditation, even if it's never easy to confront yourself. Above all, I try to free myself from periods of time when I am alone, an essential breath in this cluttered society. Clearly, the proliferation of books on well-being proves that more and more people are aware that chasing after money or responsibilities is not fulfilling.

As an activist, how do you view so-called committed Buddhism? Should Buddhism take a stand or, on the contrary, not put its nose in the affairs of society?

Through the issue of environmental protection, it is clear that Buddhism offers interesting solutions, like other religions that have taken up the subject. Yes, religions can play an important role in current social debates. This is the case for AIDS. In the same way as politicians, religious have a role to play with their faithful, because it is intolerable to allow another 2000 people with AIDS to die each year, who, I remind you, should not die since we have the treatments required ! When you have a strong voice, like that of the Dalai Lama, it is natural to commit. Religions must therefore guide and propose, but without replacing public authorities.

Through the concept of conditioned coproduction, Buddhism teaches that we are all interdependent and connected to each other. Can this vision change the political debate?  

This idea ofinterdependence could, for example, participate in changing the vision of many people about migrants! On this topical subject, we can clearly see the selfishness of France, which is not capable of receiving the other. Because, it must be remembered, no one flees their country for pleasure! How many Tibetan monks and lay people have taken refuge in Europe since the 70s because they were persecuted by the Chinese authorities. Today, we are making quotas instead of taking care of people who find themselves in an emergency situation. We hear politicians say that there are savage hordes of migrants trying to invade us, whereas these are men and women who are simply trying to save their skins!

What is your position on the situation in Tibet?

Few politicians have the courage to oppose the Chinese government so as not to harm their trade relations. I am extremely shocked to see that the Dalai Lama has still not been officially received in France! Some heads of state had this courage, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received it on several occasions, without this preventing Germany from trading with China. The Dalai Lama is a man who advocates peace; as such, we should officially receive it. Europe, which historically has welcoming values, would be honored to receive the Dalai Lama (2) and to have the courage to denounce what is happening in Tibet.

How did you know the Tibetan monk Tenzin Penpa, President of the Tibetan community, who made a ceramic in memory of your husband Christophe Michel-Romero?

As head of culture for the XNUMXth arrondissement, I met him as part of a Tibet Festival that takes place in my arrondissement. The first time we greeted each other, something strong happened, because he exudes a rare presence and kindness for a human being. He helped me a lot when my husband died and this year he gave me a superb ceramic in his memory. His words brought me and still bring me today a lot of serenity.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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