What is HIV stigma?
HIV stigma refers to the HIV-related shame, fear, prejudice, discrimination and guilt that exist in the gay community and world at large. It affects the health and well-being of both HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay men.
But, what does HIV stigma look like?
- HIV stigma is putting 'clean, ub2' or 'disease-free' in your online dating/cruising profile
- HIV stigma is rejecting HIV-positive gay men when they disclose their HIV status but having sex with them when they don't.
- HIV stigma is an attitude that HIV-positive gay guys are lazy when they do not work or they are a 'slut' or 'guilty' or a 'failed' person when they become infected with HIV.
- HIV stigma is gossiping about the HIV status of gay men in the community and avoiding them based on the knowledge that they have HIV
- Having sex with guys without any discussion of HIV but rejecting guys who disclose they have HIV: If you are sexually active chances are you are having sex with guys who have HIV and they don't even know they are infected. The next time you reject a guy with HIV after he tells you he has HIV, ask yourself if you would have had sex with him had he not told you he has HIV. Your risk for HIV is the same, whether you know he has HIV or not. Always practice safer sex and you can avoid HIV.
- Placing the sole responsibility to talk about HIV onto the shoulders of guys with HIV: A culture that expects HIV-positive gay men to talk about HIV in all sexual situations is a culture that places sole responsibility for safer sex onto the shoulders of HIV-positive gay men. This is unfair to HIV-positive guys, particularly because of HIV stigma, which discourages guys from telling their partners that they have HIV. This is also risky for guys who do not have HIV when they rely on positive guys to disclose in order to decide if they will practice safer sex. The prevention of HIV transmission should be a shared responsibility. HIV-negative guys can also bring up safer sex and HIV and they can tell their sexual partners they are HIV-negative, to ensure that their sexual partners are informed of their HIV status.
- Buying into the perception that HIV-positive guys don't care about the transmission of HIV: HIV-positive people have been at the forefront in leading the response to HIV since it all began. For most guys with HIV, the fear and anxiety of possibly transmitting the virus to sexual partners and lovers is difficult to cope with. Transmitting the virus is of great concern to most guys with HIV.
- Making assumptions about how HIV-positive guys look, behave or think: It's true that the impact of being on HIV medications can affect some guy's physical appearance, but thinking you can figure out a guy's HIV status by looking at him is not a reliable strategy to avoid HIV transmission. The reality is that many HIV-positive guys don't have noticeable physical traits that are related to HIV infection or HIV treatments, so your assumptions about what an HIV-positive guy looks like may be wrong. And the assumption that a healthy looking guy could not have HIV may lead you to take risks you would not otherwise take.
- Avoiding guys with HIV in your social circles: You may or may not be aware of the HIV status of your friends. It's probably something that doesn't often come up in discussions. Most HIV-negative guys wouldn't deliberately exclude HIV-positive guys from their social circles. But, HIV stigma can make it difficult for guys with HIV to disclose to their friends. Be aware of what you think and how you talk about guys with HIV when you are with friends. You may be talking to a guy with HIV and not know it.
- Judging guys with HIV who are on long-term disability: HIV infection can result in many physical and emotional complications and some of these can make it difficult to work. HIV stigma in the workplace can also create real challenges for guys with HIV to maintain full-time employment. A guy may be able to go to the gym or meet friends for coffee, but not be able to maintain full-time employment. Get educated about the experience of living with HIV. You need to ask yourself what kind of community you want to live and play in and act accordingly.
If this describes some of your own actions/words then you might be Serophobic.