In Honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to continuing the work of Evelyn Lowery, an educator and social justice leader. This is a blog in the Sexual Health Q & A Series
It is a dangerous myth and misconception that HIV and AIDS are specific to the LGBT community. Let me break it down so that it can forever be broke! There are people of all racial, sexual, and class background that are affected by HIV and AIDS. HIV- which stands for human immunodeficiency viruses can be contracted a number of ways including intercourse, blood transfusion, drug related needle sharing, and transmission between mother and a newborn. With this information, it is clear that HIV is not about sexual identity.
I would like to share a story about how I first learned about this myth as a teen and how I have grown to speak out with the accurate information needed to educate my peers. It was a few years ago. I was 15 years old and sitting in a McDonalds with two of my closest friends, Marcus and Noah.
Our conversations usually started off light and reeked of inexperience, but today was different because it quickly began to migrate from casual conversation to explicit information. It happened abruptly, the moment Marcus decided to assert his opinion about HIV. His explanation of the disease was mild but misguided, especially when he inserted his conspiracy theories on the origins of HIV. But overall he was just being Marcus, a lighthearted kid from Indianapolis, Indiana. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was more than 4 years ago. But I couldn’t help but feel uneasy, mainly because most of the conversations I had dealing with HIV usually ended in an awkward, uncomfortable silence.
At the time, the only thing I knew about HIV was that there wasn’t a cure and that it was often passed from one person to another through sex. Ironically, I had no idea that HIV could be passed through blood transfusions. But when Marcus asked my opinion on the topic, I remember searching the uncharted regions of my mind for every stereotype that clouded my understanding of HIV/AIDS. But what really drove this conversation to a close was my friend Noah who told us that, his father told him “that only gay people could get HIV”. Seconds passed as his misinformed comment registered with me and Marcus, but years had passed and I still couldn’t understand how someone could come to that conclusion and actually tell someone about it (let alone their teenage son).
After spending many years of my young adult life getting educated on HIV, it became clear that nothing about HIV is black, white, or gay. Anyone can get HIV, so it’s important to avoid incorrect information pertaining to any form of medical illness. However, it is comments like those that keep the conversation about HIV/AIDS short and misinformed.
Everyday I am reminded of the power that a simple misconception can possess, every time someone is afraid to get tested or negatively speaks on behalf of someone who has HIV. But it is equally important to recognize that these conversations are not only occurring between consenting adults, it is also happening between young adults everywhere. This is why it is imperative that people educate themselves on HIV/AIDS, because even small misconceptions can have a lasting impact on our lives and the people that we care about.
For more information, visit SisterLove.org as they talk about comprehensive sexual health education.
Growing up, how was HIV/AIDS discussed in your community and how has that impacted your perspective on people who are HIV positive?