HIV/ AIDS stigma is still alive and strong today, even though we are 55 years from the world’s first known case of AIDS.*
Today is World’s Aids Day, a day when we reflect and remember all our friends that we have loved and lost over the last 30 years, it is also a day of hope, a day when we once again renew our vow to fight this virus and come together as a community to stand united.
Last week I was lucky enough to see the Jewish Aids Memorial Quilt, it was a very moving and humbling experience, I could see how it was made out of love for people we have lost, our friends, our lovers, our family
Today, Sarah (not her real name) has decided to mark World’s Aids Day by sharing with HotSaltBeef&Mustard her experience of telling her family when she was diagnosed HIV. Thankfully Sarah has a very supportive Jewish family, she is well aware that this is not always the case.
Today like any day, I would ask you to be safe, respect everyone, regardless of their status and know your status, let’s stand united and support everyone in our wonderful, colourful, talented community.
I am writing this article under pseudonym name out of respect to my parents, siblings, extended family and their children. I was going to be open about who I am but with the surge of panic that this created in my family I soon compromised. I felt that it would sour what has always been a loving, strong and supportive relationship. My families ‘possible’ rightful fear is that I will no longer be seen as ‘me’, but may be labelled and stigmatized for my previous errors in judgement that led me to be HIV+. An equal fear of the effects this would have on my family members and their children, as they may become stigmatised too.
I will never forget that October day in 2004 when I came to visit my family. I had avoided contact with my family for a month since getting my diagnosis. My Grandfather had only recently died; I watched my family wave goodbye to my then recently widowed Grandma. I decided that I could not keep this is a secret from the people I love so much. I needed their support and we needed to get through this turbulent time as a family.
After clearing away the Sunday lunch I told my Mum first. I told her that I had some news which is not the end of the world. I told her that I had some blood tests and my HIV test came back positive. She cried. I said I was going to tell Dad that day as we will need to get through this as a family. We heard my Dad’s footsteps coming down the stairs. My Mum picked herself up, in true English and Jewish fashion went to make tea and take out some buns. As the tea and buns entered the room so did my Dad. My mother had wiped the tears away but it was obvious that she had been crying.
My Dad looked at my Mum and then me and said: ‘What have you done now?’ I said he may need to sit down and I shared my news. My Dad said he wanted a second opinion from a private doctor. I said that I had the best medical care available. My Dad wanted to find a pill so this just would go away.
Later that day I spoke to my then pregnant sister. She was her normal pragmatic and honest self. She wanted to know who gave it to me. She said to me how could of you been so stupid. Though we all grow and change. She throughout the journey of my having HIV, has given me a loving and listening ear. No matter how hard the information was for her to hear.
Though my parents, sister and friends have found it a challenge, we got through it together. Today I still think how lucky I am to have the best medical care and treatment available. How fortunate I am to live in the developed Western world. In times of trouble I’m lucky that my family and friends have been there.
So what can you do to prevent HIV?
- If you have any questions or concerns about the sex you are having there are many organisations out there to help.
- Get tested regularly; particularly if you are having many sexual partners.
- Know your status: The sooner you know the sooner you can do something about it. It takes two to tango it is not solely the responsibility of someone living with HIV to be honest about their status.
Talk about HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections/ Diseases with partners, and then you can make sexual health decisions based on the facts.
- If someone tells you their HIV Positive; show support, love and compassion. This is a big, bold step and the only way we will prevent the growth of the virus is through honest open communication.
Useful HIV Organisations
*Article updated and edited from New London Synagogue publication: Worlds AIDs Day 2012