By Tania Gonzalez, AIDS Project Los Angeles
May 6, 2010
A young volunteer runs an AIDS information booth
Did you know that there are more than 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States? And most new infections are among gay men and people of color.
When I was young, the stigma and discrimination toward people who are living with HIV/AIDS was enormous, often fueled by society’s negative attitudes toward gay men, people who use drugs and sex workers.
Unfortunately, three decades into the start of the epidemic, the stigma toward HIV remains strong.
HIV/AIDS is a disease of the immune system. We know a lot about how people can become infected (e.g., through unprotected sex, the sharing of used needles or from mother to child), and we also know much about how you can’t get HIV. So why are there so many misconceptions?
According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in three young people still mistakenly believes that HIV can be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass, swimming in the same pool or using the same toilet as a person who is infected. The number of misconceptions regarding HIV transmission is incredible, but one of the best ways we can fight the disease is by spreading the facts.
Getting tested for HIV is easy, quick, free and the only way to know for sure whether or not you are HIV-positive. In the U.S., one out of five people who are infected with HIV don’t even know their status!
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do right now to help reduce the stigma toward people living with HIV/AIDS in your community. The best form of HIV prevention is education. Lead by example. When you protect yourself from HIV, you protect the people you love! See? Good Karma always comes around!
Here are five ways you can make a difference in your community:
1. Educate yourself. Find out about how HIV is transmitted. Talk to your friends about HIV, STDs and practicing safer sex. The more people talk about it, the less taboo the subject becomes.
2. Empower yourself. If you’re going to have sex, be assertive about using condoms. There are condoms made just for women, too! Also remember that the Pill won’t protect you from STDs. Get tested for HIV and make your partner get tested, too. Up to 70 percent of new infections may result from people having sex with someone who is unaware of their HIV status. Remember that HIV tests are often not part of routine health checkups, so make sure you request it next time you’re at the doctor. Tell your friends to do the same.
3. Offer your support. If you know someone who is HIV-positive, let them know you support them. Become their friend, give them a hug or just listen.
4. Become an advocate. Write a letter to your elected leaders to let them know that young people care about HIV. Ask them to increase funding for care and prevention and to end discriminatory practices. Did you know that until January 4, 2010, the United States restricted all HIV-positive people from entering the country, whether they were on holiday, visiting on a long-term basis, or just stopping over between flights? Thanks in part to the enthusiastic work of young people like you, this discriminatory practice is no longer legal.
5. Volunteer. No matter where you live, there are ways in which you can help people living with HIV in your community. Join an organization! Donating your time and support is a valuable and fulfilling experience. If you live in Los Angeles, visit the AIDS Project Los Angeles website at apla.org to find out how to volunteer. Living outside of L.A.? Check volunteer databases like idealist.org or volunteermatch.com.
It is within our power to end AIDS. Join the fight!