With significant advancements in the treatment and prevention of HIV, you'd think the stigma surrounding the deadly virus and AIDS, the syndrome the infection causes in the body, would have lessened. Unfortunately, a new project looking at conversations on Grindr — a social networking app for gay, bi, curious, and queer men — has shown that this stigma is very much present.
Since scientists first discovered HIV in 1984, those with the infection have been shamed and stigmatized. Originally referred to as the "gay cancer" and gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) instead of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), HIV's history is one filled with homophobia, classism, and discrimination.
Unfortunately, millions — yes, millions — of people have been infected with HIV and faced this stigma in the US. Currently, 1.1 million Americans have HIV, and — since 1981 — 636,000 people have died from HIV in the US. According to the WHO, more than 35 million people have died of AIDS worldwide, and 36.7 million are currently infected with HIV.
Now, those afflicted with the illness in the US and many other developed nations can access treatments that keep it at undetectable levels. Moreover, those with HIV-positive partners or people who are at risk of getting it can now take medication to protect themselves from contracting the illness.
Although effective treatments now exist for those who can afford and access them, it's unfortunately not surprising that this video project showed that negative attitudes and verbal abuse are still being directed at sufferers. Hopefully, more projects like this one from the HIV Foundation Queensland are conducted to face this stigma head-on because it will take increased discussion and awareness campaigns to make the public confront the prejudices surrounding HIV.
HIV Foundation Queensland's latest project — called The Real Conversations of Grindr — shows regular people reading online exchanges that actually occurred on Grindr.
The video begins comically, with participants reading sexual, outrageous conversations. It then transitions to a more serious subject: HIV.
Participants read hateful statements from conversations in which HIV-positive individuals are told they should be ashamed of themselves and are called "walking diseases." Some of the insults are so explicit that participants in the video project refuse to read them.
After they finish reading the messages, the individuals featured in the video reflect on the content of the conversations. Most express shock at what they read, discussing how difficult it was for them to repeat the hateful, dehumanizing statements aloud. They all then reiterate the importance of speaking up about HIV to combat the stigma.
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