Challenging HIV Stigma

From Sean Strub, POZ Magazine’s founder…

Biomedical advances against HIV since the dawn of the epidemic have been nothing short of astonishing. An almost always fatal disease is now, for those with the privilege of access to treatment, a manageable chronic illness, treated with a single daily pill. A person who acquires HIV today has every reason to expect to live a normal life span.

Sean Strub
POZ Magazine’s founder, Sean Strub

Yet with such astonishing success in treatment, why is HIV stigma worse today than ever before? Why do so many long-term survivors, including many who were exceptionally open about their HIV-positive status for years, find they must now keep it a secret, sometimes going deeply into closets they thought they had left for good years ago?

Many people—especially those who do not have HIV—find these questions startling. That’s because they remember the days when one had to wear a spacesuit to visit a person with AIDS in a hospital or was afraid to eat in a restaurant with gay waiters or refused to touch a person they thought might have the virus.

Read the full article.

Activist Victor Claros Helps Latinos Understand U=U

From hivplugmag.com

Victor Claros knows the ugly realities of war. The El Salvador-born immigrant fled his country after being captured and nearly killed by guerrillas when he was 15. But the young man’s spirit never died.

Despite having grown up in a religious and homophobic family, Claros found the strength to come out twice: first as gay to his then-wife, and later telling the world he’s living with HIV. What happened next prompted him to take the first step towards becoming a staunch activist.

Activist Victor Claros

“I felt guilty, I was really afraid and ashamed,” remembers Claros, who was working as an HIV educator at a nonprofit at the time of his diagnosis. “I think, sadly, it took me being diagnosed to realize how much stigma and discrimination people living with HIV face on a daily basis. What made it even harder is the fact that way too often the stigma came from individuals, providers, and workers who were helping people with HIV.”

One of Claros’s a-ha moments came when he overheard providers making negative comments about their own HIV-positive clients, an experience that made him realize he needed to fight harder for the people they were serving. So, he joined ranks with Bruce Richman and the Prevention Access Campaign to further promote undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U), a consensus that states when you are HIV-positive, undetectable, and on meds, it is impossible to transmit the virus.

Claros says, “The only way I was going to help others was by becoming vocal and openly start talking about these people I was testing on a daily basis. That’s kind of the thing that pushed me to come out [positive].”

Read the full article on Plus.

Trust and stigma affect gay couples’ choices on PrEP and PEP

From aidsmap.com

Both relationship-specific and structural factors influence whether coupled gay men living in New York City choose to use pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP/PEP) for HIV prevention. Some men – particularly those in monogamous relationships – felt that discussing PrEP and PEP in the context of a relationship could threaten the relationship by raising issues of trust, while others felt that it had the potential to enhance sexual health and satisfaction.

Stigma from the gay community and healthcare providers around promiscuity also presented barriers to PrEP uptake. This qualitative research was conducted by Stephen Bosco, Dr Tyrel Starks and colleagues at City University New York and published in the Journal of Homosexuality.

Gay and bisexual men accounted for 66% of all new HIV diagnoses in the US in 2017. It is estimated that 35-68% of these infections happen within the context of a long-term relationship. This indicates that coupled gay men have the potential to benefit significantly from biomedical prevention strategies, such as PrEP (taken on an ongoing basis) and PEP (taken shortly after a suspected infection). However, only 7% of the potential 1.1 million gay and bisexual men who could benefit from PrEP were prescribed it in 2016. Black and minority men in the US remain most at-risk for HIV infection, while also having the lowest rates of PrEP uptake.

Read the full article.

What you stand to lose by not having sex with people with HIV

From Queerty.com

By David Hudson

Imagine a couple. Let’s call them Todd and Carl. They love one another like crazy and continue to be amazed at how much they have in common.

waht you looseThey work out together at the same gym, enjoy watching the same nerdy, sci-fi and fantasy series on Netflix, and share a love for Japanese and Korean food. They seemed to effortlessly merge their groups of friends when they got together and share the same values when it comes to working hard and building their careers.

Although neither has popped the question yet, they’re likely heading toward marriage somewhere down the line. They love, trust and support each other. Oh, and the sex? The sex is mind-blowing. It helps that Todd’s around 20% top and 80% bottom and Carl’s the opposite. They just click. They make that ridiculously cute couple that others envy.

Sounds good, right?

Except it never happened. Despite both catching each other’s attention on an app, Todd and Carl never went for that first date. They never made it to the bedroom stage, let alone realize that they both shared a dream of adopting a kid and trekking across South America one day. See, Todd stated on his profile that he’s HIV positive. And when he messaged Carl, he wasn’t rude, but he simply responded, “Sorry, not quite what I’m looking for.”

And with that, a relationship that would have changed both their lives disappeared into the ether. Mr Right was pushed right back out of the door.

Read the full article.

Post a selfie to help end HIV stigma

From plus online…

The campaign captures 24 hours in the lives of people affected by HIV stigma, which impacts everyone regardless of age, race, or status. The social media-driven campaign, now in its tenth year, is an opportunity for people to share a moment of their day and tell their story, while breaking down the barriers that stigma creates and raising awareness about HIV, as stated in a press release.

“Stigma can isolate and scare people,” said Positively Aware art director Rick Guasco, who created the campaign. “It can also prevent people from accessing care and treatment. A Day with HIV brings people together; it shows that we’re all affected by stigma, and that people living with HIV are just like everyone else.”

We encourage you to take a picture and post it to your social media with the hashtag #ADayWithHIV and include a caption that gives the time, location, and what inspired you to take the photo.

Images can also be uploaded to ADayWithHIV.com, where they will be considered for publication in a special section of the November/December issue of Positively Aware.

Check out some of last year’s photos

Sexual abuse against gay and bi men brings unique stigma and harm

From The Conversation

As trauma psychologists, we’re leading a team to help alleviate psychiatric distress in gay, bi and trans males who have been sexually abused or assaulted. In collaboration with two nonprofit organizations, MaleSurvivor and Men Healing, we recruited and trained 20 men who have experienced sexual abuse to deliver evidence-based online mental health interventions for sexual and gender minority males – an umbrella term for individuals whose sexual identity, orientation or practices differ from the majority of society.

This study should help men in this group who have been sexually assaulted know that they are not alone, that they are not to blame for their abuse, and that healing is possible.

But, there are some things that trauma psychologists already know about these men, such as how prevalent sexual abuse of men is and ways to help men recover.

Continue reading…

Living with HIV

From U.S. News and World Report

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. In 2017, 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis, and when they first heard the word “positive,” many were thrust into feelings of anger, sadness, denial and fear.

“There are some people who suspect they are HIV-positive but go a very long time without testing, and then there are other people who test for whatever reason and turn out positive,” says Mallory Johnson, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of California–San Francisco School of Medicine and co-director of the NIH-funded Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. “Those tend to be the extremes of the experience.” Disbelief and shock, Johnson says, are the most common responses.

Of those living with the virus in the U.S., about 14%, or 1 in 7, are unaware of their infection. HIV weakens the immune system by destroying cells meant to combat infection and disease; AIDS is the final stage of the infection, when the immune system has been severely damaged. Not all HIV-positive individuals will develop AIDS – antiretroviral therapies and other medications now allow people with the virus to live long, healthy lives.

Still, receiving a chronic diagnosis like HIV is likely to produce emotional distress. Here’s a look at the toll such a diagnosis takes, as well as how patients can tend to their psychological health.

Learning he was “undetectable” was a game changer

In 2012, Bruce Richman received news about his health that would set him on an unexpected path.

His doctor explained to him that he was “undetectable,” meaning that by adhering to his HIV antiretroviral therapy, the viral load in his blood was so low that it could no longer be detected.

Bruce Richman, founder of Prevention Access Campaign, is working to change the way the world views people living with HIV

This was a game changer for him. The news meant that Richman, who first found out he had HIV in 2003, would be unable to pass the virus on to any sexual partner.

“I found out nine years after my diagnosis that I can’t transmit the disease. My doctor told me and, here I am, a privileged white guy with a support system. I’m privileged with this information, and I started looking around and saw that nothing confirmed it was true,” Richman told Healthline. “I started doing research. There was no information out there to the general public that was clear and inclusive and accepted that this was true.”

Richman’s realization that this information, which could benefit thousands upon thousands of people living with HIV, rested mainly within medical circles — accessible to those with connections and privilege — awakened something within him.

Continue reading on Healthline.com.

Thoughts of self-harm still and epidemic among gay youth

From the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News

There were 34,000 respondents in what is being called the “largest survey of LGBT youth mental health ever conducted and provides a critical understanding of the experiences impacting their lives.”

According to the Washington Blade, here are some of the findings:

• 39 percent of LGBT youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months with more than half of transgender and non-binary youth having seriously considered it.

• 71 percent of LGBT youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year

• Less than half of LGBT respondents were out to an adult at school with youth less likely to disclose their gender identity than sexual orientation.

If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7/365 via chat everyday atTheTrevorProject.org/help or by texting 678-678.

Documentary 5B shows the real heroes of the AIDS epidemic

From People.com

This was a time when people weren’t even touching patients with HIV,” says Priyanka Chopra, a prominent supporter of the film on behalf of the AIDS charity RED, which will receive 30 percent of all box office proceeds. “They would lay in their soiled bedsheets for days where nobody would come and even enter their room to feed them. At that time, these nurses chose to not think about whether they would live or die and actually the nobility of the profession is what you see in this movie.”

The film, which received a four-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival last month, features the nurses of ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital who didn’t allow societal ignorance, prejudice and fear curtail their drive to administer compassionate health care to patients who had otherwise been cast aside. These were patients who most health care professionals wouldn’t touch without wearing gloves, even a hazmat suit.

Read the full article.

 

AIDS Education Month: Philadelphia FIGHT looks to raise awareness, combat the virus

From kywnewsradio.radio.com

June is AIDS Education Month, and Philadelphia FIGHT has organized a number of events designed to prevent HIV and get folks tested. “People are not going in to get treatment. People still lack access to care,” said Tashina Okorie the director of community health training alliance for Philadelphia FIGHT. She says, while many believe that the AIDS epidemic is over, there is a lack of education and a plethora of stigma.

So the goal of AIDS Education Month, Okorie says, is to dispel myths and provide details on testing, prevention and access to health care. “Access to prep and access to just medication, so you can take care of your health,” she said.

On Tuesday, hundreds will attend the HIV Prevention and Education Summit at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which will feature dozens of workshops. “Around HIV prevention, around hepatitis C treatment, around behavioral health matters,” she explained. Later in the month there’s a community cookout and workshop on how to teach others about HIV.

Read the full article.

Internet-based intervention effective in the treatment of depression in people living with HIV

From aidsmap.com

An online self-help intervention is effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depressive symptoms in people with HIV, according to a randomized clinical trial conducted in the Netherlands and published in the September issue of The Lancet HIV.

The trial compared the outcomes in a group who received the online self-help intervention and a control group. The internet-based intervention, available in Dutch and English, consisted of a cognitive behavioral therapy program called “Living Positive with HIV” and developed from a self-help booklet that had previously proved effective in decreasing depressive symptoms. Participants also received minimal telephone coaching by a Masters student in psychology. The control group received the telephone coaching and could access the online intervention after the trial was completed.

Sanne van Leunen and colleagues randomly assigned 188 eligible participants to the intervention (97) or the control group (91) in 2015. Depression was assessed at baseline, Month 2, Month 5 and Month 8 (the control group did not take the last assessment).

As detailed below, results show that more participants in the intervention group than in the control group demonstrated significant change in their symptoms and that this effect was maintained for six months. Anxiety symptoms were also decreased. No adverse events were reported, the rate of satisfaction with the intervention was high, and most participants reported that they would recommend “Living Positive with HIV” to others.

Gay men experience more depression and suicide

From Psychology Today

It’s well known to the point of stereotype that gay men experience higher rates of HIV, substance abuse, and suicide. But it’s less known, and hardly talked about, that we also have much higher rates of depression, especially those of us living with HIV, despite the causal relationship of depression and self-medicating and self-harming behavior.

You might call depression the big gray elephant in the room staring us in the face as we do our best to ignore it.

The 2013 fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual  (DSM) defines depression clinically as a depressive mood or loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities over a two-week period, along with four of these symptoms: “changes in appetite or weight, sleep, and psychomotor activity; decreased energy; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions; or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation or suicide plans or attempts.”

Although depression affects both men and women, men kill themselves at rates four times higher than women. Of the 41,149 suicides in the U.S. in 2013, nearly 80 percent were men.

[…]

An American study of gay men found that those who perceived increased homophobia and danger were more likely to report depressive symptoms. Feeling unaccepted and rejected by the gay community—as do too many gay and bisexual men of color and those living with HIV—were also found to increase the risk for depression.

Read the full article.

No evidence of stigma towards people using PrEP on dating apps

From Avert.org

The study, published ahead-of-print in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, monitored reactions on dating ‘hookup’ apps to see whether negative stereotypes of people on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) led to unfavourable reactions to people who said they were using PrEP.

The research was carried out in response to damaging labels that described PrEP users as promiscuous and irresponsible, which have surfaced in recent years on social media.

Just over 200 respondents from the USA viewed four fake dating profiles displaying identical pictures and information, with one crucial difference. The profiles described themselves as either HIV-negative, HIV-positive, a PrEP user, or a recreational substance user. Participants were then asked to rate each profile on a number of factors, including attractiveness, desirability and trustworthiness.

The study found participants rated profiles of people on PrEP as positively as HIV-negative profiles. However, HIV-positive profiles and profiles where people indicated they used substances were rated significantly less attractive and desirable than HIV-negative or PrEP profiles.

Crucially, when the sample was split by history of PrEP use, those who had not taken PrEP before rated HIV-positive profiles as significantly less attractive and less desirable, compared to HIV-negative profiles.

Read the full article.

Young people dying as stigma, misunderstanding prevent HIV treatment

From Canada’s CBC News

When Saskatoon man Ian Longman found out he had HIV, it was two years before he sought treatment. He thought the diagnosis meant certain death, and he didn’t know treatment was an option.

Ian Longman almost died because he didn’t know treatment for HIV was available

“I just started hating myself and hating other people and hating what they were saying about me and stuff like that,” said Longman.

“Because I heard that you die from it so I thought that I was dying.”

In the months leading up to his hospitalization, he’d been shunned by his loved ones, who didn’t know that HIV could only be transmitted by sharing certain bodily fluids and not, for example, by sharing a cup.

Lack of education, understanding

It’s a lack of awareness that Sanctum executive director Katelyn Roberts said is common in Saskatchewan, a province in which doctors are calling the spread of HIV an “epidemic.”

“We have people in Saskatchewan who are in their 20s and they’re dying,” she said.

“And they’re not dying because of the HIV per se, they’re dying because they haven’t engaged in health care and by the time we catch them and we get them into the appropriate setting, it’s too late.”

Read the full article.

Mental health care is key to ending AIDS

From Advocate.com

Research shows a strong correlation between mental health disorders and living with HIV or AIDS, a correlation that is often overlooked. According to the National Institutes of Health, people with HIV have an increased risk for developing mood, anxiety, and cognitive disorders and are twice as likely to live with depression as those who do not have HIV. A 2010 U.K. study showed that one-third of HIV-positive men who participated in the survey met the criteria for a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.

For those living with HIV or AIDS, depression is more than just mental hell — it can be a silent killer. Studies show that if people living with HIV feel stigmatized or suffer from mental illness, they are less likely to take their medication properly, which not only puts their own health at risk by not suppressing the individuals’ viral load, but also raises the likelihood that they will pass HIV on to others. Individuals living with HIV and depression are also more likely to think about suicide or even attempt to take their own lives.

Despite what we know about the connection between mental health and HIV/AIDS, too few people living with HIV or AIDS, and those invested in their health and happiness, are getting the mental health support they need. That is why we are proud to announce the opening of the state-of-the-art GMHC Carl Jacobs Mental Health Clinic, which will allow us to incorporate innovative treatment and counseling into our service model. Services will be available to adult New Yorkers of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and income levels, regardless of HIV status.

Past traumas, stress, depression, reduced self-esteem, and other challenges can be grueling to deal with. We aim to offer holistic services that address not only our clients’ mental health issues, but their social, spiritual and health concerns as well. Meanwhile, the ability to reach more HIV-negative people with HIV-preventive interventions and mental health services will help us decrease new HIV infections.

Read the full article.

Three reasons why language is important in media coverage of HIV

From the HRC… (by Diego Mora Bello, HRC Global Fellow)

Stigma and discrimination continue to be common barriers for people living with HIV. Fortunately, the media can play an important role in helping to remove these and other barriers. In my own survey of Latin American news articles mentioning HIV and AIDS, and in meeting with media professionals and advocates, I found that Latin American Media has room to improve its use of correct and destigmatizing language when talking about people living with HIV. Covering HIV both correctly and responsibly is important, because doing so is an essential part of raising awareness, debunking common myths, and giving voice to an already marginalized group of people.

The importance of using correct and responsible language in journalistic coverage of HIV inspired me to research this topic and share my findings. The ultimate goal of HIV in the Media is to report on this subject in a scientifically accurate and responsible way that inspires others to follow suit.

Based on my research, here are the top three reasons why language is important when covering HIV and AIDS in the media.

Read the full article on the HRC Website.

Let’s stop shaming black men

From the Advocate.com

Last February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report predicting that, if things don’t change, one out of every two gay or bi black men will become HIV-positive in their lifetime. This statistic has been repeated endlessly, usually in connection with reasons why HIV rates are higher among African-American men who have sex with men. To be fair, there are a wide range of factors that play a part in raising HIV risks, including poverty, drug use, childhood sexual assault, and depression.

stop-shaming-black-men“We cannot separate the high infection rates among black gay men from several ills that continue to plague our society,” Greg Millet wrote for The Advocate in 2015. “Discrimination, poverty, stigma, and lack of access to health care all affect health care utilization for black gay men. As a result, a substantial proportion of black gay men remain undiagnosed, and others who are diagnosed and without the financial means to access medications will remain virally unsuppressed.”

Many of these factors also impact heterosexual black men, so what’s at the root of the disproportionate HIV rates for their queer brothers? One prevalent argument is that — because of excessive homophobia in the black community — black gay and bisexual men have low self-esteem. That lower self-esteem leads them to be more promiscuous, engage in riskier sexual behaviors, and even use drugs; which explains why HIV rates among black men who have sex with men is so high. Makes sense? Problem is, it’s also wrong.

Read the full article on Advocate.com.

NASTAD: People living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) do not transmit the virus

From LGBTweekley.com

nastad-300x195WASHINGTON, D.C. – NASTAD (National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors), a leading non-partisan non-profit association that represents public health officials who administer HIV and hepatitis programs in the U.S. and around the world, published a new statement affirming that durably virally suppressed people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) do not sexually transmit the virus. The statement accelerates NASTAD’s longstanding work to end HIV and promote policies and public health practice grounded in science.

”The science is clear that people living with HIV with a sustained undetectable viral load do not transmit the virus to others. What’s also clear is that we have the tools to end the HIV epidemic and HIV-related stigma and make new infections a thing of the past. Today, we tackle a major part of this work by raising awareness about the latest science of HIV transmission risk,” remarked NASTAD Executive Director Murray Penner.

Read the full article.