Modern medicine has made it possible for many to live well even with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. But the idea that only members of the LGBTQ community are at risk of receiving this diagnosis still permeates culture. It’s a toxic mindset and it needs to go — yesterday. Here are five stigmas that members of the community are tired of hearing and how we can shut them down.
1. Having a Different Sexual or Gender Identity Doesn’t Equate to Infection
For some reason, some who fall into the heteronormative camp still seem to equate LGBTQ individuals as abnormalities, rather than normal variations on the human experience and biology. The words of Shakespeare echo through time on this score: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
Just because members of the LGBTQ community celebrate Pride month doesn’t mean they run a higher risk of contracting HIV or AIDS than heterosexual, gender-normative folks. Everyone’s body works the same way, and a virus is a virus is a virus.
2. Community Members Know More, Not Less, About the Risks
Your HIV risk is determined by your behavior. Those who choose to engage in higher-risk sexual behaviors face a greater danger of contracting the HIV virus regardless of whether they prefer to engage in those behaviors with the same or the opposite sex.
It is for this reason that discrimination against gay and bisexual men in blood donation makes little sense. The blood flowing through the veins of an LGBTQ individual shares the same risk of being infected as heterosexual blood. With blood supplies at critically low levels, continuing to ignore biological reality will cost lives.
3. Being Infected Doesn’t Mean Being Irresponsible
Yes, some members of the LGBTQ community do receive diagnoses of HIV. What’s important to remember is that so do many heterosexual individuals. No matter how careful people are, mistakes happen. All people can really do is try to be careful. Always use condoms each time you have sex and double up with a spermicidal lubricant for added protection. Spermicide doesn’t kill every strain of HIV, but it makes a good second line of defense.
What we shouldn’t be doing is blaming people once they’ve contracted this condition. Just as no one would shame a lung cancer patient for getting sick, no one should shame a member of the LGBTQ community for receiving a diagnosis of HIV.
4. You Truly Can’t Discern Health Status by Appearance
Do you think you know what someone infected with HIV looks like? Think again. The disease not only doesn’t discriminate, but it also leaves very few visible signs if it’s being treated with medication. Whatever you do, don’t assume you can tell a person’s HIV status by how they look. With medication, the disease is controllable, and most sufferers look like anyone else.
5. Getting Diagnosed Is Not the End of the World
Watch any movie made where the protagonist receives an HIV diagnosis and you’d think their entire world crumbled upon hearing the words, “The test results came back positive.” In reality, receiving a diagnosis does cause shock — but normally it’s nowhere near this dramatized.
Modern medicine has made living well with HIV possible. In fact, many go on to have normal life spans and their overall quality of living is not diminished. Savvy individuals know this, and while they’re probably not thrilled to receive the diagnosis, their worlds don’t have to be shattered.
Treating All Humans with Equal Respect and Love
Love knows no bounds, and neither should access to quality health care when it’s needed. By addressing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS among the LGBTQ community, we can educate everyone about basic biology as well as empathy. Follow the Golden Rule by treating everyone else how you would like to be treated yourself.