Coming Out Against HIV Stigma

Published: October 11, 2013

One of the most common emotions that people experience upon learning that they are HIV-positive is shame. It’s a destructive and paralyzing emotion that serves no purpose with HIV. Speaking out is one of the best antidotes to shame. When people speak openly and unashamedly about their HIV status, we can find authenticity and empowerment, and we can help foster a stronger and healthier community. 

This National Coming Out Day, The National Minority AIDS Council, The National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, and The Stigma Project have teamed up on a new social media campaign, "Come Out Against Stigma." This is an opportunity for queer people to come out, not just about their sexuality but also about their HIV status. 
To come out about one’s HIV status can be a risky prospect. We live in a world of stigma and intolerance, and all too often, coming out is met with anger, castigation, and possibly even violence. But people still come out. That’s what we do. We come out. 
Coming out is a constant process. Sometimes it’s subtle, and other times it’s explicit. We come out about our gender, our ethnicity, our nationality, or our sexuality. It’s part of the human experience. We yearn to affirmatively declare our ever-evolving identities. To choose to come out as HIV-positive is no different. 
Coming out about HIV is a very personal expression that can have profound political, legal, and cultural consequences. In an ideal world, stigma, shame, and homophobia wouldn’t exist, and coming out about HIV wouldn’t raise much attention. But we live in a messy, imperfect world, and we’ll never make it completely safe enough for everyone to come out. But ironically, the best way to combat this risk is by coming out. It’s the classic case of strength in numbers.
The history of coming out in the LGBT community has demonstrated that when people know LGBT individuals — when they see us as actual flesh-and-blood human beings — they are less inclined to discriminate and more willing to respect our humanity. 
What does the general public really understand about HIV-positive people? In the early years of the epidemic, we saw ordinary people and activists, actors and athletes, step forward about their HIV. They transformed how people thought about the disease. But in the past 20 years we’ve lost a considerable amount of momentum around coming out. Now we have the opportunity to share our unique stories beyond the sensational and maudlin headlines, so that others can fully appreciate the diversity of our experiences. 
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