No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to hear about it. And many who live with it do so in secret. Not wanting to be judged and ‘side-eyed,’ the stigma of HIV and AIDS is worse now than ever before.
In the minority homosexual community, people will speculate your status if you gain or lose weight. If you are seen with someone else who is believed to be living with HIV, or if someone spreads a rumour about your status.
On the other hand, the majority of the straight community simply believes HIV is a gay disease. Sounds like a disgusting cycle of discrimination and stigma passed from generation to generation. This creates an environment where those living with HIV can’t live openly with their status.
After finding out I was positive, I decided to try and make a difference. I chose to start my own non-profit with HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and women’s health issues at its core. After trying to make important connections with some veterans fighting against HIV and its stigma, I quickly realized that many had lost hope and faith in change.
They simply don’t believe anything can be done to change the stigma and prevent the spread of HIV. What we need now is a new generation of leaders in the fight against HIV and the stigma associated with it. We are in need of leaders that are not drained of hope and who have seen more defeats than victories.
We are in an era of this disease where our young people need to take on the battle because we are the most affected. If we can create an environment that promotes and helps those living with HIV build healthier and more productive lives, this will create the self-esteem needed to encourage those living with HIV to be more open about their status.
It will spark many to get treatment and to help educate others they come in contact with. We need to create an atmosphere where HIV/AIDS is a part of life. We need to educate young people who are about to start having sex and those at high risk on how to protect themselves against all STIs. Only then can we end stigma and prevent the spread of HIV.
HIV is not a death sentence anymore. My greatest achievement is that I have accepted that I have HIV, but I do not let it control my life. Being HIV positive is not a punishment; it is just a condition that we have to live with. And it’s not a disease of homosexuals, drug addicts or sex workers. I have seen infants and 80-year-olds with this condition.
We have to empower ourselves and teach ourselves self-worth and teach people not to pity us. I am not going to minimize the seriousness of the illness. It is not easy. That is what I teach people who think they do not need to protect themselves because they can just take some pills and they’ll be fine. They don’t know the side effects and things we have to endure mentally with this virus.
The message I give is the same no matter what community I am speaking to: Love yourself, test yourself, protect yourself! And for those who are not infected: Always respect this virus. It may not be a death sentence anymore nor a life sentence.