Why Keep it private?
Lots of people who have HIV keep it a secret and don't tell anyone else, or just tell one or two people about their diagnosis. If you have HIV in your family, or have HIV yourself, you have probably been told not to tell anyone else about it. People may suggest this because HIV can have a stigma attached to it, or that they don’t want someone to think badly of them because of their HIV or HIV in their family. If someone was behaving negatively towards, or judging someone because of their HIV status, they would be stigmatising that person. When something is stigmatised, it means that members of this group are seen in a negative way just because of something about them. In this case it would be because they are living with HIV.
If you look at history, at different times, different groups of people have been stigmatised:
In the past black people were stigmatised, exploited and mistreated throughout the slavery era, and under the apartheid regime in South Africa as another example.
LGBTQI+ people in many parts of the world are still seen negatively, judged and mistreated. In some countries it is still illegal to be homosexual. In some places this stigma has been overcome and LGBTQI+ people have been accepted more widely in society and the rights of this group are recognised equally to any other sexuality, or gender identity, and include equal marriage and adoption rights.
We can see from the cases above that things do change over time. As society moves forward, through campaigning work, activism, political change, and through better information, media coverage, action and discussion, there becomes better awareness and therefore more acceptance across society, and in the wider population towards previously marginalised and stigmatised groups. We can see from our work as a children and young people's HIV organisation over the last twelve years, that the public attitude towards HIV is improving all the time and that there are better laws in place to protect people's rights. There are still some people who are judgemental and we discuss that below.
Why do some people think in a stigmatising way about HIV?
Many people have not been educated about HIV, so they don’t understand it. They may not understand the routes of transmission, or they may think that only certain types of people contract HIV. They may think that people have done something wrong to become HIV positive so they make a judgment based on this . In the past, you may have even have thought these things too, but now you know they are not true. HIV is a virus, it is quite a complicated virus, but no-one has done something wrong to get it and it affects all types of people. Some people are afraid of something they don't know about and this fear can turn into judgement, so it vital that we work together to ensure the right information is out there to help people overcome their fears through knowledge and information.