In my new video blog episode (below), someone asks me, incredulously, if I would actually march down the street telling people I'm HIV-positive. Well, actually, I would, and I have. Many Pride parades ago, in 1994, I marched while wearing a T-shirt that said, "NO ONE KNOWS I'M HIV-POSITIVE." This was prior to the advent of protease inhibitors, when many were still dying. The shirt felt like an enormous "screw you" to the virus, the body count and anyone who had a problem with my status.
But I have a peculiar lack of shame, or, if you will, I'm shameless. And I am very, very fortunate that I can exercise this trait with a minimum of consequences. It's not something that many people with HIV are able to do. Why? Because beyond their personal reticence, there is still an appalling lack of empathy (and education) within families, workplaces and social networks when it comes to HIV. The issue of HIV criminalization and the increased prosecution of people for not disclosing their status only increases the risks of sharing your status.
It may be instructive to point out that, unlike people with cancer or diabetes, people with HIV are stigmatized, rejected and even prosecuted for their status -- and not a small amount of social stigma comes from within our community (HIV is the only viral condition for which you can be prosecuted for not disclosing, even though others, such as hepatitis C, have become deadlier). I believe one antidote to stigma is pride, and by taking pride in our HIV status, we can foster a feeling of responsibility and openness -- to seek medical care, disclose our status to our partners and serve as models for those who are too afraid of HIV to even get tested.
During the recent Atlanta Pride parade and festival, I tried to reconcile my own "HIV out" status with those who can't speak for themselves, and I investigated a simple question: If HIV is nothing to be ashamed of, can it be something to be proud of?
Thanks for watching, and please be well.