I had to come out twice – first, as a gay person, then as HIV positive. The last five years of my life have been dedicated to fighting the stigma associated with HIV.
I am a confident, intuitive guy, a tad on the shy side but someone with his head on his shoulders. I am 23 now and the last five years of my life have been dedicated to fighting the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. I hope that I can stand as a beacon of hope for the countless many who suffer in shame.
I had to come out twice – first, as a gay person, then as HIV positive. Initially, I was too scared to reveal my HIV status to anyone and that’s where The Humsafar Trust provided a lot of support. I started working there as an advocacy officer and through this I got to meet a lot of people and gained the confidence to come out and speak about the issues that really matter to me.
I was 21 when I got the chance to come out openly when I attended a photography workshop along with 15 other people living with HIV and shot my story with a digital camera. The reaction from my friends was very positive as they came to know me through this video and were more concerned about my health; now they always stand by me for any kind of help I require.
Young people living with HIV can face a wide range of issues when it comes to getting treatment, for example when they visit hospital for medicines sometimes they are treated so badly that then they decide not to visit again; they don’t always get proper counselling and are sometimes blamed by healthcare professionals for having contracted HIV, particularly if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and facing dual stigma. And in those kind of circumstances, sometimes youngsters decide to end their own life.
HIV and social stigma
I’m worried about the lack of awareness and social stigma when it comes to getting a simple HIV test done. People are either not aware of the testing centres, or are too ashamed or scared to go to them. I’ve personally driven several of my young gay friends to test centres and they have then turned out to be HIV positive. One wonders how long they must have been carrying the virus. Even for me, when I tested positive at eighteen, my T-cell count was already quite low and I’m sure I must have been HIV positive for a while.
When I came out to my parents as gay, I used the internet to search for LGBT communities and came to know about one organisation in New Delhi where I met more people like me. There one counsellor shared information about HIV and AIDS during one of my counselling sessions and I realized that I should go for HIV testing.
So I went for the test in the same organization and the counsellor just asked me two or three questions and within ten minutes he declared my HIV status. I started crying and broke down, I felt like I was going to die soon and who would look after for my parents as I am the only son in my family. Those feelings were the worst feelings of my life.
Reaching out for support
For a long time, I suffered the stigma of being HIV positive in silence and I had no social support. Some support mechanisms are available today and they should certainly be made more available to people living with HIV. There needs to be a higher level of awareness among HIV negative people too so that they are sensitized to the issue. Nowadays there are more projects specifically working to help people who are living with HIV and sexual minorities (such as the Pehchan programme operated by India HIV/AIDS Alliance) and more community based organisations (CBOs) that are helping youngsters regarding their health issues and sexuality.
There are lots of young people who are living with HIV and don’t have a job so maybe with the help of NGOs and CBOs we can provide them with job opportunities, build their capacity and give them a bright future.
If you test positive then make sure you reach out to a support group near you. It’s important to get informed about the medications and other help available. Also confide in a small bunch of close family members or friends and talk to them about your feelings. Sharing and discussing always helps. It’s important to know that even HIV positive people can live healthy, productive lives with the support of family and friends. My mother takes extra care about my diet and I try not to miss my medicines even when I’m travelling.
Read more about HIV and young people