HIV-Positive: Know Your Rights and Find Support

Medically Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on February 12, 2024
3 min read

When you have HIV, it’s good to have support and acceptance. But you may not always find it. Stigma can still surround this virus, and it may affect the way people treat you.

Some people may have fears that come from misunderstanding how HIV spreads. We’ve known since the 1980s that you can’t catch it through a handshake or other casual contact. But not everyone is aware of the facts. Others may have negative views about the actual ways the virus spreads, like through sex and using drugs with a dirty needle.

The good news is that you have lots of legal rights. And many groups can help connect you to medical, financial, and emotional support.

By law, you may have to notify some people that you’re HIV-positive. But you don't have to tell everyone.

Thirteen states require you to share your HIV status with your sexual partner. Laws in four states require disclosure to anyone with whom you share a needle.

In most cases, you don’t need to tell your employer. But companies have the right to ask about your health if you might expose people to your blood on the job or otherwise pose a safety risk. Your insurance company isn’t allowed to tell your employer you have HIV. But it’s possible that your company may find out from benefit statements describing your treatments.

It’s totally up to you if you want to tell friends and family. Confiding in others may help you respond better to treatment.  

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you against discrimination from your employer because of your HIV status. Hiring managers can’t ask about your health, or turn you down for a position if you can handle all the responsibilities of the job.

The ADA also entitles you to "reasonable accommodations." That means your company must make adjustments you need to do your job, like scheduling breaks during the day so you can take your medicine.

Some landlords may balk at renting to someone with HIV. The Fair Housing Act makes that illegal. You can’t be denied housing or harassed or evicted from your home because of your HIV status.

If you have trouble finding or paying for housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives grants to local governments and nonprofits to help you. Depending on where you live and your income, you may qualify for rent subsidies, vouchers for public housing, or help with homelessness.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly called Obamacare, you can’t be denied health coverage. Insurers must cover pre-existing conditions like HIV, and they can’t cancel your policy because of your new diagnosis.

The ACA also requires coverage for “essential benefits,” including many of your HIV drugs, lab tests, and mental health counseling. Based on your income, you also may be eligible for help paying your premiums.

If you earn little income and have no insurance or not enough coverage, the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program can get you the treatments you need.

Your loved ones may react to your HIV status differently. Some may jump right in and offer to help. Others may have a harder time accepting the news. Still others may reject you. 

One way to work with your family’s attitude is to educate them about HIV and what it means for you. If your loved ones won't listen to you, a marriage or family therapist may be able to help.

You may find the help you need if you know where to look.

  • Health care. Visit the Health Resources & Services Administration's website, or call your state's HIV/AIDS hotline.
  • Legal. You may be able to get free or low-cost help to protect your rights. The Center for HIV Law and Policy can connect you with legal help with discrimination, housing, or employment cases. Or check with your state or local bar association.
  • Counseling and social services. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a confidential National Helpline (800-662-4357) for referrals to therapists. The Department of Veterans Affairs has support groups for service members who have HIV, and also can connect you with social workers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. Other good contacts include your local public health department and private, nonprofit charities like United Way or Housing Works.