Tuesday, December 1 is World AIDS Day. This year’s international theme is HIV: Reality, which will focus on discovering real stories about living with HIV. Now, more than 25-years after the HIV/AIDS virus was first discovered, an incredible amount of stigma still exists and is very prevalent- even in the gay community.
Case in point: I was having brunch with a group of friends last weekend when one mimosa-looped buddy of mine decided he needed to share with us the fact that an ex of his was just diagnosed as HIV+. While this information was private and should not have been shared by a third party, it was out on the table. A few of the brunchers immediately freaked out telling my friend to immediately “go get tested”. They seemed so aghast by the revelation I half got the impression they wanted to head straight to a clinic at that very moment, champagne glasses in hand. Another friend then decided to bring up the old conversation topic of whether each of us would date someone who is HIV+.
As we went around the circle, we continued to hear the usual “I wouldn’t have a problem being friends with someone that has HIV, but I just don’t think I would be able to date them.” Then the question progressed to “Well what if you current boyfriend tested positive?.” Typical answer was something like, “I’d still love him, but I don’t know how comfortable I would be being intimate with him anymore.”
I felt these answers were very reminiscent of the old “But I have gay/black friends so I’m not homophobic/racist” defense.
Those of us who are under 30-years old or so grew up knowing about HIV/AIDS. We were educated about it in school, we saw it in the news, and it was something we may or may not have talked about it, but was feared by most. After all these years of knowing about HIV/AIDS, it still continues to amaze me that so many educated people fear it so much. The amount of discrimination that still exists is startling. Certainly, dating and having an intimate relationship with someone who is HIV+ is a very personal decision that comes with making some responsible choices, but people who are HIV+ are not to be feared. I remember as a kid in the 1980’s and early 90’s hearing some people talk about concerns that they could contract HIV from things like toilet seats and utensils at restaurants. We now know how ridiculous those fears were, so why do we still fear HIV+ people so much?
There is some hope. Last night a friend of mine told me that he had just found that a friend of his was diagnosed HIV+. He told me that his heart sank when he found out, but told me that “HIV has a face now.” He realized that HIV+ people were not just drug addicts who spend time in bath houses, but real people, like himself. It opened his eyes.
That is why this year’s theme is so important. HIV is a reality and it is important that we continue to educate ourselves and hear from people who are HIV+ so that it is normalized. While HIV/AIDS is a devastating part of our world, it is a reality that we all have to live with. We have to educate each other, play safe, and remember that HIV+ people are just that, people.