If you've been diagnosed with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), or know someone who has, the need for support and compassion couldn't be greater. But all too often HIV-positive people become targets of AIDS discrimination and stigma. On top of handling new health challenges, they sometimes face rejection by family and friends. They may be forced out of homes, lose jobs, or even become victims of violence. The following information can help you learn about ways to cope with AIDS discrimination. It can also help you better and understand civil rights for HIV-positive people.
What's Behind AIDS Discrimination and Stigma?
Many factors can lead to AIDS discrimination and stigma:
- HIV is a deadly disease that many people fear.
- Some adults in the U.S. still wrongly believe that they can catch HIV through casual contact, such as sharing a drinking glass or touching a toilet seat. This greatly increases their fear about being near people who are infected.
- Many people connect HIV and AIDS with behaviors that are already stigmatized, such as sex between men or injecting drugs.
- Some people believe that having HIV or AIDS is the person's own fault. For example, they might think it's the result of moral weakness and deserves to be punished.
Unfortunately, AIDS discrimination and stigma also fuel the epidemic. They prevent people from talking about their HIV status with sex partners or people with whom they share needles. Fear of rejection and worries about confidentiality also prevent many from getting tested for HIV. This means they may spread HIV to others without knowing it.
How to Cope With AIDS Stigma
There is no simple answer for how to deal with the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. The first step might be to seek support from people who understand what you're going through.
- Ask your doctor about local HIV/AIDS support groups. Or, ask to be referred to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker.
- Find a hotline by looking in the yellow pages of your telephone book. Look under "AIDS, HIV Educational Referral and Support Services" or "Social Service Organizations." Ask for practical advice or emotional support over the phone. They can also refer you to local HIV/AIDS self-help organizations.
Examples of AIDS Discrimination
What exactly is AIDS discrimination? It means you are treated differently than other people simply because you are infected with HIV. For example:
- A person denies you access to medical care at a hospital, medical or dental office, skilled nursing facility, or drug treatment center.
- A person denies you child custody or visitation, or the right to adopt or become a foster parent.
- An employer asks unlawful questions on a job application or harasses, fires, or transfers you to a lesser job position.
- A person of authority reveals your HIV status at school, at work, or within a health care institution.
- You are evicted from a rental property.