Getting HIV Out of the Closet

Question: How does stigma affect someone with HIV?

Marjorie Hill:  Stigma has kept HIV and AIDS in the closet.  People are still, even in 2010, afraid to tell family members, afraid to tell co-workers.  The Kaiser Foundation did a study a couple of months ago and they interviewed individuals and said, would you prefer to, or not to have a co-worker living with HIV.  Half of the people responded, they would prefer not to.  I’m a clinical psychologist.  I do very little clinical work now, but I run a therapy group for women, a support group for women living with AIDS.  And the women in my group have been living with HIV for 10 to 18 years.  Of the seven women in my group, three of them have not told their sisters—their sisters—that they are living with HIV. 

If any one of them had gotten breast cancer or lupus or you know, any type of significant health threat, they would have told – their sister might have been the first person.  When I pushed them on why they hadn’t said anything, one of the women said to me, if I told my sister that I had HIV, my niece and nephew could not visit me and certainly could not eat at my house. 

You don’t get it from, you know, utensils.  You don’t get it at the Xerox Machine, yet there’s all of this anxiety that persists.  So we have a lot to do to overcome the challenges of stigma.  

Question: Will people sharing their HIV positive status with the public help combat the stigma?

Marjorie Hill:  You know, Bell Hooks, a really phenomenal African-American writer talks about the concept of coming out as really a gift that the gay community has given to society.  That the whole notion of being an example, being a role model, being courageous and sort of putting out who you are to the world is a very positive and affirming thing, both for the individual, but also for society at large.  So absolutely, yes, having HIV positive individuals come out in their faith communities, on their jobs, in their communities, at the club, is a very powerful thing that we at GMHC support all the time. 

Recorded November 4, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler

Even in 2010, people are still worried to share their HIV status with family members and co-workers. But as more people come out, the stigma will begin to abate.

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