Speak Your Truth:<br />
Moving Past the Fear of HIV Stigma

Reggie has been living with HIV since 1988.

EBONY is joining forces with Greater Than AIDS – a nation-wide campaign that stresses unity, hope, and personal empowerment to inspire people to do their part to stem the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic – to feature real stories from real people in a month-long series called “I Got Tested: Speaking Our Truth about HIV.”

Visit EBONY.com every Wednesday in the month of June in the lead up to June 27th, National HIV Testing Day, to read a new personal story.

Reggie is one of the faces of the Greater Than AIDS campaign. He is HIV-positive and a loving husband and father:

I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 when there was little or no hope for a long life. If you can imagine or remember the level of fear and stigma at the time, maybe you can understand why it took me so long to disclose that I was infected with the HIV virus.

It took me 14 years to tell my mama, children, family and friends about my situation.  I wanted to tell family members, who would need to know in case of any unexplained sickness, but I did not want to worry them with something they could do nothing about.  Besides, people have big mouths and I just didn’t want to be lonely – I wanted to be loved.

When I finally decided to disclose, I was still concerned that ignorance would cause some to treat me differently as a result of their own fears, but the love that my family and friends showed me after learning my status was encouraging.  My disclosure was motivated by the fact that so many of my friends had suffered and died in silence in the early days of HIV. 

Nowadays, many people still experience HIV stigma and are not willing or ready to share their positive status publicly.  I don’t question their decisions -- though not disclosing does not mean you are released from your obligation to protect others -- but I want to share how the freedom to live more authentically has been a part of my healing process.   There is something very freeing about no longer pretending not to care when HIV is mentioned in conversation.  On a spiritual and mental level, I realized my secret was keeping me sick. 

Our world has changed a lot since I was diagnosed. Effective treatments are now available to help those who are HIV positive live longer and healthier lives and also help to reduce the spread of HIV. Diagnosis no longer equals death. There is so much to be hopeful for, but there will always be a fear that disclosure means losing your dating life, not being sexual or not being loved. I was blessed to have been in a loving, committed relationship when I was diagnosed and I want others to know that there are courageous, caring people out there who will love you no matter what.

Diagnosis no longer equals death.

When asked how my wife and I have maintained a relationship with one of us positive and one of us negative for 28 years, we first thank God--then we like to note that sometimes I may not feel like using condoms, and sometimes she doesn't want to use one, but we make sure we both don't get stupid. By using condoms religiously, we are able to help ensure she remains HIV negative.

HIV also affects how we interact with family and friends. They can be a support, but how they handle the information can also become an emotional drain on the diagnosed person. 

That is why educating others about the disease and available treatments is so important to getting rid of misconceptions and soothing worries.

Most importantly, sharing information on how to prevent passing it on or contracting the virus is key to helping those around you understand the disease, whether you are positive or not.

With the grace of God and treatment, today my physical health is good.  I have developed a spiritual relationship with a higher power, been blessed to enjoy a loving relationship with my wife and family, and I am comfortable with myself. I am positive and I am loved.

HIV began one person at a time and it will end one person at a time. Join the Greater Than AIDS movement on Facebook.