Why HIV Stigma Has to End, ASAP

December 30th, 2012  |  by Veralyn Williams |  Published in Blog, My Two Cents, Videos

For World Aids Day this past Saturday, I decided to find out if college students today are worried about HIV. After getting mixed responses to that question from the 25 students I spoke to, I followed up by asking them if a partner (or potential partner) had ever disclosed a positive HIV status. Here’s what I heard:

Not one of those 25 students said “yes” when it came to a romantic partner. But considering that approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV and 1 in 5 of them don’t know their status, it’s possible that some of those partners didn’t actually know for sure. As Michael J. Kaplan of AIDS United puts it in a Huffington Post piece for World AIDS Day, “…until we tackle the pervasive problem of HIV stigma, a problem that prevents many people from getting tested for the virus and many living with HIV from getting into life-saving care, our dream of an AIDS-free generation will remain only that.” As a person who’s grown up hearing about HIV all my life, anecdotally, I believe major part of the problem is that too many people don’t see the face of HIV when they look in the mirror.

It didn’t really hit me until I read The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive by Marvelyn Brown, a true story about how a straight black girl from Nashville, Tennessee, contracted HIV at 19 years old. It was crazy to me just how many similarities Marvelyn and I had: she had an older boyfriend she loved, with whom she had unprotected sex… The only difference? Her boyfriend had HIV.

I firmly believe that the key to getting more people to find out their status and disclose it to their partners is to let go of the stereotypes of what someone with HIV should look like. Marvelyn is a beautiful, curvy woman who’s enjoying life and doing important work around HIV/AIDS awareness (Check out the photos on her website and see for yourself). If she wasn’t an activist, would you assume she had HIV if you saw her in the street? Probably not.

We all need to face the reality of HIV/AIDS. One way to do that is through Facing AIDS, a national campaign that lets you take action by writing how YOU are facing AIDS today and uploading a picture of yourself with your words to the Facing AIDS website. My personal favorite:

By showing the many faces affected—directly or not—by HIV/AIDS, the campaign aims to reduce stigma and promote HIV testing for World AIDS Day and beyond.

What does facing AIDS look like to you?

Originally posted over at Bedsider on 12/04/12.

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