Philly LGBTQ conference addresses deadly stigmatization of HIV

    Performer Todrick Hall is shown on stage in 2015 in Beverly Hills

    Performer Todrick Hall is shown on stage in 2015 in Beverly Hills

    “We can find a way to end HIV. We got heart, and maybe that’s enough to fight the racism, stigma, homophobia, gender inequity …. We got to stick together. We got to stay strong.”

    Todrick Hall sang these words, kicking off “Convergence: Forging the Path to End HIV,” a panel discussion plenary at the five-day Creating Change Conference, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force in Center City Philadelphia. Hall, an openly gay and popular YouTube entertainer, received great applause from the audience.

    The aim of the discussion was to address the stigma surrounding HIV in hopes of eliminating the virus.

    When compared to other countries, the United States has a realtively low suppression rate, which is the number of people living with HIV but undergoing treatment, thereby decreasing the likelihood of spreading the virus.

    Panelist Dr. Richard Elion of George Washington University explained that, “[In] Uganda, the rate of suppression runs at about 55 percent, compared to 30 percent in the United States. So clearly, our country is not doing something that we need to be looking at.”

    Elion said there is more to decreasing the spread of HIV than affordable diagnosis and treatment options, and that combating the stigma of HIV is vital.

    Blogger and activist Ken Williams on the panel spoke about his experience living with HIV. Echoing Elion’s emphasis on addressing HIV stigmatization, Williams said, “Stigma is oppressive to the point that it kills. Because when you look at the institution of stigma, what you are looking at is fear personified. And that fear impacts everything along the continuum of care, from testing, to treatment, to learning about your sexual healthcare options.”

    The CDC recommends testing every 3 to 6 months if you are at high risk of contracting HIV. High-risk people include:

    Men who have sex with men.
    People who have more than one sexual partner.
    Transgendered people who have sex with men.
    People who recently had an STI.
    Those who use intraveinous drugs.

    President and CEO of Black AIDS Institute, Phill Wilson, stressed the importance of understanding the intersectionality of various issues surrounding HIV.

    “You can’t fight HIV and not fight stigma and discrimination and marginalization. And you can’t be serious about racial justice, sexual orientation, gender equality, and not care about HIV.”

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