According to Avert, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) started to spread in the United States in the early 1980s. Since HIV was first seen in gay males, it caused even more marginalization for the LGBTQ+ community that continues to this day.
As we’ve seen, the U.S. is slow when it comes to addressing global pandemics, especially when the virus is disproportionately affecting gay men.
Larry Speakes, former press secretary under President Ronald Reagan, laughed when he was asked what the president was going to do about the spread of HIV in 1982. Reagan did not address the issue publicly until 1985, according to NBC News. By this time, there were 20,303 cases of AIDS worldwide.
As stated by HIV.org, stigma can prevent people from getting tested and talking openly with their partners about their status and safer sex options. This allows the virus to be transmitted more.
Eight in 10 adults with HIV report they feel internalized stigma, which can lead to depression and may affect the probability of someone continuing treatment.
The virus also disproportionately affects People of Color based on institutional issues such as income and access to education. In 2018, Black people accounted for 43% of cases and Hispanic/Latinx people accounted for 27%, according to HIV.org.
Although there is no cure, there are many treatments that help prevent and manage HIV, such as preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
New spaces are being created that allow people to talk about their status. Many celebrities are now sharing their positive status as a way to spread awareness.
Jonathan Van Ness from “Queer Eye” announced that he was HIV positive in 2019. Van Ness told The New York Times he felt the need to tell the public to challenge misconceptions about HIV and now considers himself a “proud member of the beautiful HIV positive community.”
There are many steps that everyone can take to help end the stigma. On an institutional level, adequate sex education in high school that addresses nonheterosexual sex and ways to make it safer has the potential to save lives. Advocating or donating to Planned Parenthood allows people continued access to affordable STI testing and treatments.
However, the best way to end stigma surrounding any STI is to create spaces where people can openly talk about safe sex and their status. Pretending these issues don’t exist won’t solve the problem and will only let people struggle in silence.