Bruised But Not Broken: Facing HIV Stigma Regardless of HIV Status

Posted: December 7, 2014 by Benjamin Di'Costa in General, HIV Prevention, Stigma, The Poz+ Life, The Poz+LIfe of Benjamin
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By Benjamin Di’Costa

IMG_0297It’s World AIDS Day, and researchers, advocates and patients are taking measure of efforts to combat the spread of HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of the estimated 1.2 million Americans who have HIV, 86 percent are aware of their status. However, just 40 percent are receiving medical care for the virus. One barrier to treatment could be the persistent stigma that many HIV-positive young people face. Here’s a relevant scene (and one that’s not uncommon in this, the Year of the Young Advocate):

World AIDS Day 2014… And here I am a  young gay male—urban, professional, culturally and politically savvy—walking down the street in the “Gayborhood” called Wilton Manors here in Fort Lauderdale. It was a beautiful day and not a cloud in sight.  in which it’s common to see men walking hand in hand to the local Starbucks, or making their way to their morning workouts when out of nowhere I hear from across the street shout, ” You are not worth life and you should die!” says the middle aged gay male.

Being a person who faced discrimination for being gay I just blew it off and kept walking down the street when another younger gay male mumbles under his breath “Dirty Faggot”. Now at this point I was taken back by this statement being that I was in a LGBT neighborhood where pretty much every lifestyle was accepted. What was it about me just walking down the street that caused such negative reactions from the community?

I look down and realize that I was wearing my No Shame in Being HIV+ Shirt from RiseUptoHIV and then it all hit me at once that this in fact had nothing to do with my sexual orientation but was solely about me wearing a shirt with HIV+ written on it? As I continue into a local Starbucks that morning and then notice the countless stares and whispers that were coming from patrons enjoying their morning cup of coffee.

Here I am a young 24 year old gay male who actually doesn’t live with HIV but I am in encountering countless acts of HIV stigma within my own community. Up until this point I had never understood what it felt like to be stigmatized and when I sat down and really reflected on what just happened a wave of emotion just hit me, I realized that at the end of the day I can take off this shirt and the stigma ends but what about those who are living with HIV? Those living with HIV don’t get to choose when the stigma comes and when it goes it is something that is commonly faced within the Gay and Bisexual community particularly minority communities.

So you may be asking, What now? Where do we go from here? 

There are many ways we can all fight HIV stigma in our lives and in our community, whether you are HIV-positive or HIV-negative:

  • Break the silence surrounding HIV stigma in our community. Talk about your experiences, fears and concerns about getting HIV or transmitting HIV with friends, a counselor, or a fuck buddy.
  • Learn how to better deal with and react when a guy tells you he has HIV.
  • Take responsibility for the prevention of HIV. The prevention of HIV is a responsibility that all gay men share – HIV-positive, HIV-negative and HIV status unknown.
  • Challenge attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that contribute to HIV stigma. Don’t be a silent witness to it when it happens around you.
  • Avoid using language that overtly stigmatizes others.
  • Treat guys with HIV as you would treat anyone else: with respect, empathy, and compassion.
  • Get informed about how to protect yourself from HIV and be confident in that knowledge. We know how to prevent HIV.
  • If you have difficulty playing safe, take charge of your sexual health and get the help you need to ensure you do not get infected with or transmit HIV.

Are there other things you can think of to fight HIV stigma?

Email Info@ThePozLife.Com or Tweet Us @ThePozLife!

And remember Positivity Is Everything! 

  1. roddklever says:

    Reblogged this on RoddKlever.Com and commented:
    A great comprehensive post about breaking stigma and how we as a community need to combat this and show a little love to each other.

  2. I was just recently diagnosed with HIV October 28th… So I’ll be checking this blog often.. Glad there’s something like this out there for me to read other then talk about my thoughts on my blog.. Thank you.

  3. Shani Robinson says:

    I am so sorry this has happened to you. But please don’t forget that it happens to other groups as well. I’m a middle-aged, straight woman and I’m not ready to discuss my status due to reactions that you have experienced. We are all equal. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Randy Mandy says:

    Its a horrible thing to have to experience. I’m all the way in South Africa, it’s difficult for me coming from a ultra conservative christian home as a black gay man. I have no support system. No friends to rely on, I just got contract job, its tough as I’m still studying. I have tried Patrick Ingram and others but it seems to each his own is the order of the day.

  5. Diane Reeve says:

    Most excellent! Next time how about including women in your info/education.

  6. lucy f says:

    There was a fantastic memoir recently published by Dr. Russel Tomar that talks about the common stigmas in the early days of the epidemic. I learned a great deal from reading his book and it was really fascinating to read the experiences from someone who has been so deeply involved in treatment and diagnosis from the start. I really can;t recommend memoir highly enough.
    Don’t Stop Dreaming (

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