The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog – HIV Stigma

Posted on November 17th, 2016 by Estlin in Featured, Life & HIV, Youth Blog. No Comments

An infographic from The Stigma Project. The background is a black and white photo of a crowd of people. In the foreground in red text are the words "I AM NOT" followed in white text by "DIRTY HELPLESS BEING PUNISHED A VICTIM SICK AN ADDICT A WHORE DYING A STEREOTYPE GUILTY" and then in red text "I AM" followed in white text by "HIV POSITIVE". Underneath this is a red box with white text saying "IT'S TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE SEE, THINK, & SPEAK HIV. IT'S NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE. YOU CAN HELP END THE STIGMA." At the very bottom is the logo for The Stigma Project.

The Stigma Project, “I Am HIV Positive”, August 15, 2012

What is HIV stigma?

HIV Stigma is the negative idea people have about people who are living with HIV or people who are part of populations associated with HIV. These populations include men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, people of color (PoC), sex workers, and intravenous drug users [1].

Why is there stigma around HIV?

When HIV was first identified, people didn’t know how it spread from person to person, which created a lot of fear. Even today, there is still misinformation about how HIV is spread. A 2014 study in the UK found that less than half of the British public understood how HIV is transmitted [2]. This lack of knowledge leads to some people being afraid to be around people living with HIV and behaving poorly towards people they believe may be HIV positive.

Another side of HIV stigma is related to groups most affected by HIV. MSM, transgender people, PoC, sex workers, and intravenous drug users are all groups that already have stigma attached to their identities. When HIV became associated with their identities, too, it increased both the stigma of these groups and the stigma of being HIV positive. Where someone used to be persecuted for being gay, they were now persecuted for being gay and “diseased.”

Additionally, if an individual belongs to more than one stigmatized population, they may face stigma for multiple reasons. The stigma a black gay man faces comes from the stigma of being black, the stigma of being gay, and the stigma from both of those identities being associated with HIV. This idea is called intersectionality.

What is the impact of HIV stigma?

As a result of stigma, HIV positive people can become targets of discrimination and harassment, and there is less access to condoms, HIV testing, and antiretroviral treatments in at least 28 different countries, including the U.S. [3].

HIV stigma can impact people’s everyday lives in many ways. The public’s lack of knowledge on how HIV is spread means that some people may be afraid to be served food made by HIV positive people or use the same bathrooms as them.

People living with HIV  are often discriminated against when it comes to housing, employment, health services, and more. Challenging this type of discrimination in court can be difficult and expensive.

HIV stigma can also impact the mental health of HIV positive people. If people around you think negatively about you, it can make you feel negatively about yourself. Sometimes, even one loud person saying negative things is enough to hurt. HIV stigma can contribute to depression, which can further exacerbate HIV-related symptoms [4].

What can we do to reduce HIV stigma?

One of the most important things is to educate the people around you about how HIV is really spread to combat fear. Make sure you’re being supportive with your language choices. Don’t refer to HIV positive people with negative terms like “dirty”, “infected”, etc. Challenge stereotypes about HIV positive people and associated populations where you see them. Lastly, advocating for antidiscrimination laws can help protect HIV positive people at home and work.

To learn more about reducing HIV stigma, visit Support Someone Living with HIV from

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[1] UNAIDS. (2014). Reduction of HIV-related stigma and discrimination [Report]. Retrieved November 9, 2016, from

[2] National AIDS Trust. (2014, December 1). British public still in the dark about HIV 30 years on [Press release]. Retrieved November 9, 2016, from

[3] Stangl, A.L., Lloyd, J.K., Brady, L.M., Holland, C.E., & Baral, S. (2013). A systematic review of interventions to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination from 2002 to 2013: how far have we come? Journal of the International AIDS Society, 16(3Suppl 2), 18734.

[4] Vanable, P.A., Carey, M.P., Blair, D.C., Littlewood, R.A. (2008). Impact of HIV-related stigma on health behaviors and psychological adjustement among HIV-positive men and women. AIDS Behavior, 10(5), 473-482.

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