May 15, 2012 in General
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have noticed the scandalous behaviour last week from a childcare centre in Northland, where they wanted a 4 year-old HIV+ boy, who is on meds, and has an undetectable viral load, removed from the centre until they had “a care plan” in place. Yeah, right.
You don’t need a care plan for HIV+ children like this. It’s also illegal in NZ to discriminate against anyone because of blood-borne infections.
It just left me shaking my head in sorrow and anger.
The centre has now claimed that they’ve been slandered by the NZ AIDS Foundation, who, as far as I understand, simply tried to broker an understanding and inform them of the facts, as well as advocate for the boy involved.
It’s all been horrible and messy. It must have been particularly distressing for the boy and his family, even his HIV- brothers at primary school have been affected. And I imagine it has been difficult on some level for the people running the centre too – they’ve come across as ignorant and bigoted – an impression I have yet to see them correct in any way.
But why the fuck are we still dealing with this kind of shit? Why are dealing with this level of ignorance?
It just shows again that HIV is different from just about any other condition you can think of.
It pushes buttons, it rings bells, it scares the shit out of people. Because they are ignorant.
For them, HIV = Death.
The simple fact that this is not the case any more is beyond them, and I’m guessing beyond most people in the country.
Hell, I’ve encountered similar ignorance from gay men, who you would think would be the best informed, but no, they can be just as bigoted, just as stupid as straights on this topic. In fact I’d say I encounter more discrimination from gay men than I do from the straight world.
HIV brings death and sex together in people’s minds, two topics we don’t deal well with at the best of times, and that’s a powerful combination, and hard to fight.
I guess on some levels it’s because HIV has become less of a headline issue, there is an entire generation that has grown up with little real knowledge of it. And let’s face it, it’s hard to get any positive representations of those of us living with HIV in the media. They love sensationalist issues like this that deal with “innocent victims” like children, but they aren’t interested in those of us who make up the bulk of the numbers – gay men. When was the last time Campbell Live bothered to do anything about out issues?
In NZ HIV is still very much a gay man’s disease, and the way it is seen reflects the levels of prejudice that still exist against us.
There is the paradox – on the one hand you don’t want to minimise the shit that getting HIV will bring into your life, we don’t want more people to get it, but on the other hand, it should be treated like any other medical issue. Ideally it should be normalised, seen as any other infection.
How do you fight ignorance, fear and stigma though?
I’d say visibility is key. We need to be able to show the general public that people who have HIV are nothing to be afraid of, that we’re just people like anyone else, whether gay or straight, 4 years old or 40. We need to be seen more, and not seen as martyrs or victims, villains or heroes, but as ordinary people.
I don’t think the NZAF is funded to do public education on this, though it would be good if they could find the cash to do some sort of campaign on it. That would help. There is simply no way a group like Body Positive or Positive Women can afford to do anything here, they run on the smell of an oily rag.
Some of us with HIV are open and out about our status, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not always easy taking that path. But I refuse to see why I should have to hide it either. I am not ashamed of having this virus in my blood, I’m not ashamed of how I caught it, and I’m not ashamed of living with it now.
I wish I had the answer, I wish I had the money to run a nation-wide PR campaign, but I don’t, so Â I’m going to go on doing what I do and saying what I say. The only way to defeat ignorance is to educate people, and we have to keep on doing that.