Breaking Down HIV Stigma, One Test at a Time

Written by | Gay Voices

brandon lee

I will never forget the day one of my closest friends sat me down and confided in me that he had contracted HIV.

As a young gay man of color, HIV was on my radar, but I never imagined it could hit so close to home. I was reeling and, to be honest, afraid. I wondered: How could I support him? How could I help others protect themselves?

This moment inspired me to take action, and I soon connected with The Alliance for Positive Change to gain the knowledge and tools I needed to help my community. HIV is no longer a death sentence, and with the right support and treatment, people can live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

As I learned more, my fears began to subside. To quote Kofi Annan, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

I was reassured to find out the number of new HIV infections in New York City is going down. In 2016, 2,279 people were newly diagnosed with the virus, an 8.6% reduction from the prior year, according to the city’s HIV Surveillance Annual Report.

But the latest figures also reveal disparities—people of color continue to bear a disproportionate burden of new infections. In the first half of 2017, 73% of new diagnoses in males were among men who have sex with men (MSM) and 76% were among men of color. An alarming 91% of new diagnoses in women were among women of color. We also know that young people who are positive are the least likely to be aware of their status.

Through my work with Alliance, I began to see testing as the gateway to prevention services and education, or for people living with HIV, a way to access the services they need to get and stay healthy. I am grateful my friend got tested and connected with early treatment, and that I am now armed with the knowledge to encourage more of my peers to do the same.

I know first-hand that people often hesitate to get tested because of stigma, fear, shame, and cost, and I am working to break down those barriers.

As a city, we must continue to ensure free testing and counseling services are available in judgement-free settings and create spaces for young MSM of color to engage with one another.
Thanks to my friend’s community of support, he is now working in the HIV field to empower others to get tested and take charge of their health.

Last modified: October 25, 2018

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