All Rights reserved
Three years ago today, I revealed to my friends, my family, and the world, that I was a person living with HIV. I didn't do it to help others, I did it to keep my sanity and help myself. I had been keeping my status a secret for about six months, and I could already see how it was changing me for the worse. I was depressed because of the assumptions I was making about other people's fictitious opinions of me. I was scared because I didn't have insurance and I didn't know what to do. And I felt hopeless because I didn't have my usual support system to lean on. But once I sorted out my medical care and realized my life would be a long one, I decided that a lifetime of living in fear wasn't worth living at all.
After I revealed my status and unloaded the burden of my secret, I was utterly relieved. Yet, I was frustrated and surprised by two things.
First, I was surprised by the amount of people who contacted me privately and shared their stories of living for years with a secret that was eating them alive. So many men and women were compelled to reach out to a total stranger because they felt as if the people within their own lives would judge and reject them. So instead, they lived a lie, compromising their health and happiness along the way.
And second, I was frustrated at the amount of judgment and criticism that came from people within the LGBT community. The amount of vitriol and judgment from a community that has had the world judging them for decades was too much hypocrisy to bear.
Ever since that day, I have dedicated every word I wrote to help the first group and hold a mirror up to the second.
HIV may not be a gay disease, but it is an undeniable legacy of a community that fought back against the silence of a public who didn't care about gay men dying en masse. It is a historic example of and unyielding strength and unquestionable compassion that served as the backbone for what the LGBT movement is today. Which is exactly why HIV stigma has no place within the LGBT community, because we know better.
To me, World AIDS Day is the time where we take a moment and reflect on the beautiful lives that we lost too soon. It is a time to pay respect to the men and women who passed by reigniting our efforts to combat ignorance, dispel the myths, and promote sex-positive prevention. It is a moment where we all can update our rhetoric and speak the language that reaches young LGBT youth who need it the most.
In HIV treatment and prevention, there are many obstacles we face; access to PrEP for people who are HIV-negative, access and adherence to care for people who are HIV-positive, and the elimination of stigma that keeps people from thinking that HIV doesn't affect them. And in the U.S., this starts and ends within the community that HIV affects the most: the LGBT community.
People are always asking how they can take part in HIV activism and awareness. As much as we might think social media is a modern day nuisance -- a distraction filled with 'selfies,' food pics and check-ins -- lets take stock in the powerful tool that it gives us to reach thousands of our friends and followers with a touch of a button. Social media is activism, or it can be. Yet so many are reticent to hit the share button for fear that their network will make assumptions about their own status. I say, let them. If you are worried that someone might think you are HIV-positive just because you are sharing information that could help others, you are perpetuating the problem. Assumptions do not spread HIV, but ignorance and avoidance often does.
This World AIDS Day, ask yourself this. Do you want to stand with the people who make ignorant snap judgments? The people who make HIV jokes and perpetuate the silence that so many living with HIV are imprisoned by? Or do you stand with your brothers and sisters who want to spark the final movement that puts an end to the disease? If you give in to the fear of the former, you cannot stand with the latter.
Don't let fear stand in the way of the fight. It isn't enough for people with HIV to simply live anymore; we must create a world where they can live well.