This photographer describes himself as “an African American male who lives at peace with his disease.”
The hardest part for me about having HIV is not necessarily the stigma – I am fine with having HIV. It is disclosing my HIV to others that is difficult. Only my family knows and I don’t tell anyone else unless I have an obligation to share the information. If and when I go to HIV related conferences, the disclosing is done for me, and then I don’t face stigma at all. But if I need to disclose it’s difficult when I can’t determine what your response is going to be.
This is the view from my balcony. It reminded me of how stigma can just go over people’s heads. Some people are just not aware of it. And we need the community to understand HIV, but for many people HIV is just out in the distance. People who are adherent are in control of our health. We are healthier than average a lot of times because we go to the doctor so much. We know what is going on with our body. I think we need to have the conversation that if you take your medicine you are not detectable. You experience little stigma because HIV is manageable. You are less likely to transmit it to anyone. To suggest otherwise is just a scare tactic. HIV should be described as a manageable and chronic illness.
Starting out with HIV can be hard, but you get stronger, like the leaves of this plant. With growth, you can be stronger against stigma. Over time you just get stronger and stronger, and you grow. And I think that that’s how, if the right messages are put into the community in the right areas, then people can grow. But we need to reframe HIV as more than a death sentence. Public health messages haven’t kept up. The general social messages haven’t kept up with the progress, particularly with medication. 30 years into HIV and we are not talking about the advancements in treatment. We are not talking about HIV like we discuss other chronic diseases. That is not okay. If public health messages inform the public that HIV is manageable and chronic, mental illness will decrease. That is my take away message. Catch up with the information. You can live with HIV. We need positive messaging.
For people with HIV that are struggling, who struggle to trust others, you can be strong even though you may be broken. You can continue to live. You still have armor that will protect you and keep you going.
It’s a chemistry problem to show that stigma is also a big problem. Like chemistry, steps are required to solve stigma. You can approach the problem from so many ways to make a positive change. The community needs to know that HIV is chronic, that people can live with it. People with HIV need to stand up for ourselves and let our legislators hear our votes to stop laws and messages that punish people with HIV. We are down to ONE pill a day. In the beginning HIV was hard to treat, but not there are different options.