The first time I heard the word AIDS was in my earliest years of high school. Some friends and I were playing basketball at the park, during the game I fell on the cement ground catching myself, causing the jagged surface to cut my hands. As I gathered myself, blood found its way onto the ball. One of the players on the floor said to me “You ok? You don’t have AIDS right?”
At that age, I didn’t have the understanding nor education to responsibly react to that ignorant statement had that moment happen today. Reminiscing that past situation has caused me to further think about how education pertaining to HIV and AIDS is not prioritized in the younger community.
It baffles me that there are a plethora of individuals who still cannot comprehend the differences between HIV and AIDS – along with the methods of contracting it.
HIV and AIDS have changed the world in many realms, affecting all communities it has come across – socially it still has lingering influences on the Queer community.
There is a cycling relationship between stigma and HIV&AIDS. Stigma or discriminatory thoughts about HIV and AIDS are usually circulated due to a lack of understanding, misinformation or education, and fear.
Some common stigmas include:
- HIV and AIDS are always linked to death.
“OMG, I feel so bad for him. He has HIV, so he must be dying soon.”
- “Disapproving behaviors” such as drug use, homosexuality, sex work, and infidelity is associated with HIV and AIDS
“Well if you were straight – you wouldn’t have to deal with catching……. AIDS.”
- HIV is only transmitted through sex
” Don’t ever have sex unless you want to catch “it” ”
- HIV is punishment for one’s irresponsibility
” Maybe if you weren’t having so much sex you wouldn’t be battling AIDS, and now you must suffer”
As harsh and inhumane these statements may sound, this is what many individuals – specifically within the LGBT community are hearing in their daily lives from their families, peers, and other outside establishments such as our healthcare providers and employers.
By focusing on HIV and AIDS-related stigma, important issues like nationwide funding, experimenting with new treatments– which can lead to a potential cure are blinded by the shame and discrimination associated with the virus. Believe it or not, stigma increases the spread of HIV. For example, many people who are most vulnerable to facing stigma–individuals living with HIV and AIDS, sex workers, homosexuals, drug users, transgender men, and women are often pushed to the ends of society where poverty and fear are more prevalent.
This forces our marginalized individuals to drown in the fear of their unknown status, fear to disclose their status, negotiate behavior change, and getting tested– which are all linked to the spread of the virus.
I encourage you to advocate along with me and the millions of others who fight stigma every day. You don’t need permission to advocate, nor does it take a lot of effort to do so. When you see someone using discriminatory statements involving HIV and AIDS – SPEAK UP!
Let’s educate our communities and address the fears surrounding the virus. Let’s change the attitudes and support those who are living with HIV and AIDS. Education, inclusion, and empathy will defeat stigma.