Richard Hutchinson: HIV affects everyone
I was diagnosed in June 2015. It was shocking. There was a time when I stopped breathing.
Since I am a public health professional, I did a lot of health education and advice for other black men with HIV. I thought about their stories, their courage, and how they got the diagnosis. Even though I was scared, I felt blessed by all the shoulders of the people I could bear.
The support from my friends was amazing, but it hasn’t always been an easy trip. I already have so many things on my back. I’m young, I’m black, I’m gay and I have HIV. And the world is full of so much stigma.
In the black community, HIV is even more stigmatized, a fact that proliferates because of the values of the black church. Sex and sexuality are demonized. When you’re gay, your sexuality is even more demonized.
People think this is a homosexual disease, but HIV affects everyone. Everyone in the world can get HIV. We are all at risk, so we should talk about it.
Another misconception is that people with HIV are promiscuous. They consider us sexual diversions. This is a label that many of us have to carry and internalize. But often this is not our lived experience.
I think a lot of people think you can tell when someone has HIV, but we no longer live in a time when people with HIV are dying. Due to advances in biomedical research, people like me live longer. There are people between the ages of 50, 60 and 70 who are living with HIV.
Then there are the problems related to the relationship. People with HIV can be at the forefront of “No One Will Love Me” or love“I’m undetectable, which means my viral load is low, which means I can’t transmit HIV to you.
The treatment works. Prophylaxis prior to exposure, or PrEP, the medicine people take to prevent HIV, works. I’ve dated PrEP people and had sex with PrEP people. They have maintained their HIV negative status.
The work I do with my organization, He is Valuable Inc., came from my company HIV diagnosis. Our mission is to identify, reinforce and celebrate the value of queer black men through anti-stigma campaigns and other programs.
I want people to know that HIV is a social justice and human rights issue. If we all work together, we can really eliminate this thing. We all have a role to play in ending this.