By Juan Benitez, Achieving Together Partner
I am a 22 year-old Latino working at The Q Austin, a program of AIDS Services of Austin, doing HIV Health Promotion with the LGBTQ community.
When I ask people, “What does HIV stand for?” only about one in ten people can tell me what the acronym stands for. What people forget is that the first word in HIV is “human.” HIV is a human issue. We are all affected by HIV. We are all the face of HIV. We all have an HIV status. We need to remind ourselves of this and start focusing on the human aspect of HIV.
There is not one way to eradicate HIV. It starts by meeting people where they are. My generation is a sexually liberated generation, but even then we feel like we can’t talk about certain issues and stigma continues to thrive in our communities. I was fortunate enough to have comprehensive sexual education but we need to move away from fear-based motivation, messaging, and education around HIV and AIDS. I like to say that we need to take a soft approach on a hard issue to be able to normalize HIV. Simply asking people, “Have you been to the doctor?” and “Have you been tested?” help normalize conversation around HIV. Everyone has an HIV status: positive, negative, undetectable, or maybe you don’t know your status. Not knowing your status is a status. Getting your blood pressure checked only takes 60 seconds and it’s the same thing for HIV testing.
Another way to tackle HIV is by creating spaces for people to feel comfortable talking about their bodies, health, humanity, and determinants of health in general before moving into the conversation about sexual health. We know that a lot of factors play a role in someone’s HIV status that we need to address before ever talking about sexual health.
Most of us have some level of trauma—we stigmatize ourselves, who we are, and the choices we make. People build up walls. We have to free people from their own internal stigma, not just about HIV but who they are as humans.
The next chapter of the fight against HIV is reminding ourselves that this is a human issue again.