Addressing Another Issue of The Stigma of HIV
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the outbreak of HIV and AIDS swept across the United States and rest of the world. What the general public saw was an already stigmatized group of individuals and the media began to use interchangeably HIV/AIDS with death (History.com staff, 2017). At the 1984 Republican national convention, the president of American Airlines joked that gays stood for, “Got Aids yet?” https://adgitadiaries.com/2016/03/13/hillarys-little-oopsi/. That was the mindset at the time. In 1985 the highly profiled case of Ryan White. Mr. White was a 13-year-old hemophiliac who contracted HIV from a contaminated blood treatment. This was the most profound shift of HIV. No longer was it just limited to these dark corners of society of queers and drug users but now it affected someone society deemed worthy of its empathy. The permeating fear and perception still lingers today.
What are the differences between the two pictures?
The first photo was of David Lawrence Kirby who on his deathbed by Therese Frare. The image was then published in Life magazine and was called, “The picture that changed the face of AIDS.” What are the emotions a person feels when he or she views the photograph? What words come to mind when we look at this picture? The second photo was taken by Arik Hartman titled, “When the mountain wind does not care if you are having a good hair day.” What are some emotions a person might feel when seeing the second photo? What words come to mind when we look at this picture?
Arik Hartman grew up in rural Arizona going to church every Sunday with his family. For the longest time he thought he would burn in hell or his father would kill him if he ever said he was gay. Long story short, he came out to his parents that he was gay when he was 16 years young. The news did not sit well with them. His father tried to demonically exercise him and the father even invited his pastor and friends to ambush him after school one day. Luckily his mother came home from work early and saw the commotion and threatened to shoot the pastor and friends if they did not leave Arik’s residence. After that event he tried to spend as much time away from home.
In 2012, Arik enrolled in college at Louisiana in Lafayette. His friends consisted of a mixture of gay, bisexual, and straight. A lot of his friends had similar backgrounds of growing up with a religious household which is common in the Southern United States. Arik’s friends had parents that did not accept his or her child because he or she was not straight and were considered outcasts.
Arik escaped the stigma of being gay from a narrow minded community but then something happened that was much harder to escape. He spoke of this event from the Ted stage:
In the fall of my sophomore year in college, like many college students, I was sexually active. I generally took the natural precautions that need to be carried with sex. I say ‘generally’ because I practiced, most of the time, safe sex. It only takes one misstep before we are flat on the ground and I had unprotected sex and did not think much of it.
Fast-forward three weeks and it felt like he had been trampled by a herd of rhinoceroses. He had never before felt aches in his body this extreme, he would get bouts of fever, dangerously nauseous, and difficulty walking. Arik was a biology student so he was familiar with disease and being a gay man it was easy to see that he has seroconversion or sometimes called Acute HIV Infection. Seroconversion is the body’s response to the HIV antigen to produce antibodies (http://www.aidsmap.com/Seroconversion/page/1322973/). It is important to note, not everyone goes through this phase but he was lucky. He showed early onset of physical symptoms to detect the virus.
I now would like to shift gears and see how many individuals knew this about HIV.
- How many knew with treatment those persons with HIV fend off aides completely but also live full and normal lives (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs360/en/)?
- How many knew with treatment of HIV one can reach an almost undetectable status and that makes him or her almost uninfections (https://www.hivplusmag.com/just-diagnosed/2016/3/21/30-things-you-should-know-about-hiv-were-afraid-ask)?
- How many knew with pre- and post- exposure treatments that can reduce the transmission rate by almost 90% (https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html)?
- The next question is if we have made such exponential progress at combating HIV why have not our perceptions of those with the virus changed too?
No matter how Arik tried to educate his roommates and friends there was always this shadow over him. Even in today’s time of early accessible facts; people still run to this hysteria of panic when confronted with HIV. Why?
A person might ask where are these people today with HIV/AIDS and why have they not been vocal? Where are the successful stories? How can I believe the statistics about HIV? I can now answer with almost 100% certainty fear, stigma, and shame. There is a safety in assimilation and invisibility. The moral questions (e.g., stable careers, working for conservative people, and do not want to jeopardize any progress) are good reasons why some stay silent. It is not like Arik is setting an example for a person should be open and honest because it is a personal choice but if a person wants to do so Arik want to make it easier for them. What might be next?
Arik has said he could mitigate some situations others experienced and save someone from that humiliation. The community’s driven stigma that keeps many gay individuals from disclosing one’s status and it keeps the newly diagnosed from his or her community and I find that truly disgusting. The fear of how others perceive us when we are honest keeps us from doing many things in life. This is the case for the entire TBI population. To face social ridicule and scrutiny is the price we pay for transparency. To remove the stigma around TBI or HIV requires more transparency but many for good reason are still silent because it is a disease that is transmitted by a sexual nature and default there is something already attached to it. Arik’s and my story are very similar. I want transparency about my injury. The transparency is to dispel ignorance and hopefully help others in similar situations.
- What do you think? Connect with me…