With a smile and a handwritten message, Dustin Thompson told the world that he has HIV. Or at least the 1,850 Twitter followers of AIDS Services Foundation Orange County.
In the photo tweeted two weeks ago, Thompson, 34, holds a whiteboard emblazoned with #ImPositive and his own words: “I am positive and I am not ashamed!”
This summer, the Irvine nonprofit launched a social media campaign designed to fight HIV stigma, which fuels spread of the disease, by sharing photos and personal statements from residents with HIV/AIDS.
“It’s who I am now,” said Thompson, who lives in Long Beach. “There’s nothing I can do about that except take care of myself and help prevent it being spread to anybody else.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says stigma prevents some people from getting tested and treated for HIV while also leading to “perceived discrimination, fear and anxiety.” Treatment not only preserves health, but can help decrease the risk of transmission to others.
Unlike other serious conditions such as cancer, survivors of which may proudly identify themselves, HIV remains mired in shame because of misconceptions about the disease or the taboo subjects of sex and drug use.
In 1987, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, 43 percent of Americans surveyed said the disease might be God’s punishment for immoral behavior, according to the Pew Research Center.
“When you’re talking about stigma, that can potentially cause a delay in acting,”…