In his recently released memoir, "Over the Top: A Journey to Self-Love," Jonathan Van Ness revealed that he is HIV positive. While also being nonbinary, Van Ness is a trailblazer in the queer community. Van Ness is starting very important conversations about topics that need to be destigmatized in American society. HIV has been a problem facing the United States since the 1980’s, but many people are still uncomfortable discussing the disease.
While HIV is a very serious disease, various stigmas still surround those living with it today. Those living with HIV today still face harsh judgement from certain people due to preconceived notions about the disease. People do not understand the current advancements in prevention and treatment, and they still believe myths that were spread about the disease in the 1980’s. Living with HIV today is very manageable, and I feel that educating people about the disease is the first step in removing the stigma from HIV.
I feel a connection to this topic on two levels: first off, being a gay man, HIV will always be a concern in the back of my mind. When the HIV epidemic broke out in the United States in the 1980’s, it largely affected the LGBTQ community. While prevention and treatment methods have improved astronomically, HIV still heavily impacts the LGBTQ community. Although anyone can contract the disease, the LGBTQ community makes up a majority of new cases diagnosed in the United States. Why is this?
I think that this stems from homophobia and discrimination against the LGBTQ community in American society, along with underfunding of public health programs. This discrimination stems from the fact that many people still only associate HIV with the LGBTQ community, especially gay, bisexual, and pansexual men, and do not recognize that HIV can affect everyone.
As a result, public health programs do not receive enough funding to provide quality care to these affected populations due to ideological restrictions. A person's or population’s judgement and hatred toward the LGBTQ community stops them from donating to projects leading research on new ways to treat HIV, leaving various projects with major potential in the dust. Due to this fact, HIV remains a constant worry for me.
Although I know that my chances of contracting the disease are slim to none, I share this worry with many other queer people. However, I recognize my privilege and the fact that I have access to comprehensive health care and preventative measures to avoid ever having to experience living with HIV.
My second connection to this topic comes as a nursing student. With a future working in health care, I expect to encounter various patients living with HIV. I feel like my experiences as a gay person and my understanding of the disease itself will help me provide the best quality care that I can to my patients. All that HIV patients and any patient in general want is to feel like a normal person. To help encourage this, talking to friends or loved ones with HIV can be all it takes. Having an open discussion about the disease can ease some of the stress and anxiety brought on by being diagnosed with HIV.
Being diagnosed with HIV is life changing news, so talking and listening to HIV patients is a crucial part of their care.
HIV has the ability to affect my life in various ways, but I hope that it does not. With the bravery of people like Van Ness, the stigma around the disease can be struck down and we can invite a more open conversation about a relatively taboo topic in American society.
CONNOR BRANDON is a freshman from Skippack, Pennsylvania studying Nursing. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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