MSMGF: Stigma and HIV
Sean Strub from the Sero Project told the men who have sex with men global forum (MSMGF) that although HIV outcomes were better than ever, HIV-related stigma is higher than ever before.
While Strub acknowledged stigma surrounding casual contagion was almost non-existent these days, he said stigma as experienced by the stigmatised is still an ongoing concern. He told the forum it’s about being judged and discounted and it’s also self-stigmatisation.
“It's self-stigmatisation when we say we don't have the same right to an intimate life and sex life as everyone else; when we allow our autonomy to be taken away; when we are tokenised or dehumanised and when we attack each other - that s self stigmatisation."
Strub said the breeding ground for stigma is isolation and it’s often accompanied by fear. He said the antidote to stigma is empowerment.
He recalled the words of 80's HIV activist Michael Callen and said sometimes HIV issues are best discussed by people with HIV as it leads to a gentler approach.
"In the old days networks were incredibly important - groups like a body positive and being alive - groups that created and organised themselves. In those days you were advised not to disclose until you have a network," he said. "But the risk of disclosure is even greater today."
Strub suggested many anti-stigma campaigns were counterproductive and did not assist PLWHIV in actually being destigmatised. Instead he preferred the power of human connection and suggested networks were the best way to withstand stigmatisation.
"When we build networks we create safety and networks give us the ability to withstand stigmatisation of others.
He also suggested networks assisted the community in finding leaders to promote the cause of people living with HIV.
He added: "Something else happens – and it comes out of those networks – it's leadership. So we want people with HIV in key policy positions.."
He stressed the importance of people living with HIV having a voice to combat incidents of public stigma and systemic stigma.
"Systemic stigma in government creates a different law for different parts of society based on an immutable characteristic. Most people think that is not a good idea – they think that people should be subjected to the same law. But we have governments creating laws that only relate to HIV.
Yet HIV is not the only sexually transmissible infection which if remains untreated can lead to death."
Strub believes what has finally given the movement to end stigmatisation of people living with HIV some impetus is the recent phenomenon of criminalisation.
"When people who had been criminalised went public, we began to understand how much stigma is the obstacle.”