Bravely living with HIV

Posted: September 21st, 2012 | Columns, Featured, Political Spectrum | No Comments

Allan Acevedo | Political Spectrum

Allan Acevedo

A generation of LGBT advocates before us vowed to continue to fight until there was an end to AIDS. Yet the banner for that fight seems to not have been passed on to our generation. Many LGBT youth think of shame and apathy when it comes to issues impacting those living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV is viewed negatively by those who don’t understand it and grew up with its specter as an outcome for coming out altogether. Moving towards a place where HIV is better understood and accepted will involve changing perceptions about who contracts HIV and what it does to your life.

This is easier said than done. Growing up gay in Chula Vista, I never saw any affirming portrayals of openly LGBT people, and outside of the film “Philadelphia” I saw no portrayals of HIV-positive people all together. The lack of open HIV-positive community leaders and role models also makes it difficult for people to change their perceptions of who is HIV-positive.

When I made the difficult decision to be open about my HIV status last year, I lamented about the fact that HIV is so misunderstood by our community and, worse, is often stigmatized. I chose to be as open about my status in the hope that even one person would see it as strength to get tested, know their status and seek treatment.

HIV is far from a death sentence and is often now easier to live with than diabetes. Still, the fear and stigma of HIV is difficult to deal with unless you are armed with facts and have a supportive group of friends and family who are there for you.

For many who are HIV positive, and are healthy and able to get medicine discreetly, there is not incentive to come out openly. In fact, there are disincentives such as discrimination, fear and prejudice. Coming out as HIV positive is a whole different experience from coming out as LGBT. You face stigma from all aspects of the community, but really the only way we’re going to move this discussion forward is if more brave people are willing to be open about their status in a public way, showing that HIV has neither ruined nor inhibited their lives.

Harvey Milk argued that the way to open the hearts and minds of those who are against gays was to be open to them about your sexuality. The same is true with your HIV status. If more people were willing to be open about their status, people might know an HIV-positive person, and thus know more about the health consequences and the medication options available.

I am fortunate enough to have a partner who was informed about HIV in the United States today and knew the relatively low risks of contracting HIV from me when I am on medication. He and I were able to see a health care specialist and discuss our options openly and honestly. With all the information on the table, we are able to continue on with our relationship.

My partner understands that he will not contract HIV just by sleeping next to me in bed or by cohabitating with me. We even understand that risk of transmission from sex can be greatly reduced. In fact, a study published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that antiretroviral drugs could reduce transmission of the virus to partners by 96 percent.

These advancements give much hope to people who have contracted the virus and often feel isolated and discriminated against by their peers. But this also does not present a full picture of the virus today.

Our generation is not seeing relatively healthy people become ill and end up on their deathbeds in a matter of months. Instead, we are living in a country where one can contract the virus and – if they got tested regularly – be put on medication that will let them lead an otherwise healthy life.

If that were the end of the story, our only work would be to ensure people were getting tested for HIV. The story is not that simple, as years of misinformation and prejudice about the virus has led many people to not get tested. Some people are so fearful of losing their friends and loved ones that they don’t get tested because they would simply rather not know.

Even for those who do get tested and are on medication, there is disincentive for being open and honest about their status because of perceived rejection from loved ones and potential significant others.

We must all work to combat this if we are to address the reality of HIV in our generation. It starts with those who are not informed learning more. And for those with HIV, we need to be brave, open and honest.

—Allan Acevedo is co-founder and president emeritus of Stonewall Young Democrats of San Diego. He has worked on multiple political campaigns and served on numerous boards including the San Diego Democratic Club, California Young Democrats, Gay-Straight Alliant Network and Equality California PAC. Follow @allanacevedo on Twitter.

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