Ig­no­rance still abounds on HIV/AIDS

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About a month ago, what I thought was a joke turned into an ed­u­ca­tional ses­sion. I was pe­rus­ing one of sev­eral Face­book groups that clog my time­line. A mem­ber posted a screen­shot of Twit­ter user @bakedalaska com­plain­ing about June’s, a Cana­dian restau­rant that only em­ploys HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple. “Canada has a new restau­rant staffed en­tirely by HIV+ chefs to ‘smash stigma,’” he wrote. “You’re a bigot if you don’t want to catch AIDS from your food.” I rolled my eyes and went to the com­ment sec­tion to see who had a sim­i­lar re­ac­tion. Typ­i­cally, when some­one is will­fully ig­no­rant and big­oted, they’re mocked and jokes fly.

In­stead, it was a hot mess and I had to be­come an ed­u­ca­tor. One group mem­ber who claimed to work in the food in­dus­try didn’t see why the tweet was wrong. He claimed to be wor­ried about chefs pos­si­bly con­tam­i­nat­ing food or in­fect­ing peo­ple on pur­pose be­cause he’s met “un­sa­vory peo­ple” in kitchens.

Sadly, he wasn’t the only one. An­other person re­peated the blood-in-food the­ory. A third swore she knew how HIV/AIDS was trans­mit­ted but said she wouldn’t eat at June’s be­cause of “bad ap­ples.” I was flab­ber­gasted. In an era where we have com­mem­o­ra­tions, ad cam­paigns and count­less or­ga­ni­za­tions, there are still adults that don’t know the most ba­sic facts about HIV/AIDS.

Fur­ther­more, HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple were be­ing viewed as preda­tory, and that stigma has con­se­quences. Michael John­son was sen­tenced to 30 years in prison for al­legedly in­fect­ing two part­ners and ex­pos­ing four more peo­ple to the virus. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, this con­vic­tion was handed down de­spite the pros­e­cu­tion’s in­abil­ity to prove John­son was the person re­spon­si­ble for the trans­mis­sion.

More than 30 states have HIV crim­i­nal­iza­tion laws. Peo­ple who dis­close also risk be­ing re­ported to the author­i­ties, be­ing beaten or killed. Cicely Bolden was killed by her boyfriend, Larry Dunn, when she dis­closed af­ter they had sex. Ac­cord­ing to CBS News, Dunn told the po­lice “she killed me, so I killed her.”

Al­though Google places a wealth of in­for­ma­tion at our fin­ger­tips, it is clear that peo­ple are still largely un­e­d­u­cated about HIV/AIDS. The virus used to be a death sen­tence, but med­i­cal ad­vance­ments have al­lowed HIV-pos- itive peo­ple to live long and healthy lives. Sadly, there is still shame at­tached to HIV/AIDS. Med­i­cal ad­vance­ments don’t mean much if peo­ple don’t even want to get tested be­cause they’re scared of be­ing la­beled or judged.

At­lanta has been likened to a third-world coun­try, and a ma­jor­ity of di­ag­noses come from the South. Those facts might be shock­ing un­til you re­mem­ber that ab­sti­nence-only ed­u­ca­tion is preva­lent in our schools. Con­se­quently, those kids grow up think­ing it’s pos­si­ble to “catch AIDS” from food.

As a so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially here in the South, there has to be a cul­tural change. We shouldn’t just talk about HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day or when there’s a chance to wear red or use a Snapchat fil­ter. We can’t af­ford to go back­ward.

“Sadly, there is still shame at­tached to HIV/AIDS. Med­i­cal ad­vance­ments don’t mean much if peo­ple don’t even want to get tested be­cause they’re scared of be­ing la­beled or judged.”

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