At a time when so many Americans are facing difficulties securing employment, finding housing, and accessing healthcare, it is important to ensure that no one is denied these basic necessities due to discrimination. Our collective society’s well being depends on it.
I know firsthand what it feels like to be rejected simply for being who you are. As a gay black man living with HIV, I have dealt with stigma and judgment for many years.
I grew up in a conservative home that was not supportive of my sexual orientation or of gay people in general. The only time I heard anything about LGBTQ people was the news constantly reporting on AIDS.
I asked my parents what to do to avoid being exposed to HIV, and they told me not to have sex with men. That was not helpful advice. I was diagnosed in 2006 when I was attempting to enlist in the Navy. It turns out my partner of eight years was HIV-positive and never told me.
Since then, I have faced many challenges, including discrimination because I’m Black and I’m gay.
Housing discrimination is just one example; recently, I was approved online for an apartment in Phoenix but when I showed up in person to complete the paperwork, the woman tried to deny me the apartment, saying it was no longer available. It was a clear case of discrimination.
Luckily, I had a friend with me who pushed me to advocate for myself and we were able to convince the manager to let me move in. But that is not the case for far too many.
A vast majority of LGBTQ Americans report facing discrimination in their everyday lives, and for people living with HIV, the chance of experiencing housing and employment discrimination is unfortunately even more likely.
We must do better. We need laws to protect LGBTQ people — especially people of color and those living with HIV.
My home state of Arizona is one of nearly 30 states without comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. This patchwork of protections across the country is unfair and unworkable. All Americans should be able to live, work, and access basic services free from discrimination and harassment, no matter who they are, who they love, or which state they call home.
Access to stable housing is critical for people living with HIV. If you don't have a home, you won't take your medicine, you won't eat right, you won't sleep right. All of these things can put your health in jeopardy. And during the current national public health crisis — where we must all stay as healthy as possible to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus — this becomes even more critical.
In June, the Supreme Court delivered a watershed victory for our community, affirming that it is illegal under federal law to discriminate against LGBTQ workers. The Court did the right thing, agreeing that all people should be able to work hard and support themselves and their families without fear of harassment or discrimination at work. The ruling will likely also apply to the Fair Housing Act. But critical gaps remain in our country’s nondiscrimination laws, and only federal legislation like the Equality Act will ensure that all LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in all areas of life.
I am fortunate to belong to Arizona’s Access Program, which offers me reliable and consistent access to medical care and even therapy and rehab. I've been clean and sober for three years through the program, and see doctors and get medication based on my income. But many people aren’t so lucky.
HIV is not a death sentence: we can still live full lives. But no one should be discriminated against because of who they are, who they love, or their health status. We must continue the work to win LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the state and federal level, in order to lift a very heavy and stressful burden and ensure we can all live with dignity and respect.
Hudson Kelly is a 43-year-old who has turned trauma into triumph and is thankful for every day.