A few months ago, as part of my orientation to become a counseling and testing volunteer at a local HIV/AIDS clinic, in Atlanta I attended a seminar entitled “HIV 101.” Physicians, researchers, HIV/AIDS advocates, and others affected by the virus shared recent developments on HIV vaccines and other topics such as how to advocate on behalf of HIV patients and the obstacles persons living with HIV encounter in Atlanta and all over the country. Some people even shared personal stories about how they have lived with someone with HIV.
While listening to the personal discussions, I couldn’t help but notice the following:
Stigma is ubiquitous
Five years ago, I conducted a study on the behaviors of people living with HIV in Jamaica. Some days the stories I heard would bring me to tears. People lost their jobs because they were HIV positives. Others were disowned by their families or kicked out of their apartments. Many were denied treatment at hospitals or if they were given treatment, their treatment was subpar compared to others who were HIV negative.
Many of these stories were painful to hear and sometimes, I just wanted to reach out and give them a hug and work even harder to reduce HIV stigma.
I thought these stories only exist in Jamaica. Boy, was I wrong.
People discussed how in the early days, the physicians would place people with GRIDS (Gay-Related-Immune-Deficiency Syndrome) in a room all by themselves. No one would come visit them. Others discussed how extremely difficult it was to get treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS. They weren’t treated at hospitals and if they were, they were given subpar treatment. (Sound familiar?) People were disowned by their family because their family “disapproved of their lifestyle.” Others lived quietly and in shame that they contracted such a horrific and God-forbidden virus.
And these stories occurred in the U.S.A.
Love is incredible.
Many of the people living with HIV overcame their sickness because they were loved by someone. Love is incredible. It truly makes the world go round.
One woman told a story about her brother who did not open up to anyone about his disease – not even to his own sister. He only confided in the only woman that he felt loved her. And she was the only one that didn’t leave him. She was there for him – always. Even during the times when it was difficult to withstand.
And it made me realize that love conquers all.
It really does.
She was the reason that he survived 7 years with HIV.
I hope I feel that from a human being one day / Because I already have God on my side.
People who are living with HIV are still living in shame. And that is so sad. Even today – in 2012 – there are people who are HIV positive and no one will ever know because they won’t tell because of the STiGMA.
For instance, I remember I had a classmate who one day revealed that she was HIV positive. The whole room felt silent. The professor didn’t even say anything.
That wouldn’t have happened if she had cancer. If she had cancer. People who have come to comfort home.
There is still more work that needs to be done.