Removing HIV Stigma in the Workplace
What is HIV Stigma?
HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, has been a topic of concern for many for more than thirty years. Many equate HIV with images from the early 1980s of drug users and gay people dying and news stories that indicated that these people were infected with the virus because of their lifestyle choices. More than thirty years later, some of these beliefs still exist. The result is what is called “HIV stigma.”
The Center for Disease Control (or CDC) describes HIV stigma as, “negative attitudes and beliefs about people living with HIV. It is the prejudice that comes with labeling an individual as part of a group that is believed to be socially unacceptable.
· Believing that only certain groups of people can get HIV
· Making moral judgments about people who take steps to prevent HIV transmission
· Feeling that people deserve to get HIV because of their choices
AIDS Map identifies stigma as, “One dictionary’s definition is: ‘The shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable.’ There may be a feeling of ‘us and them’. People who are stigmatised are marked out as being different and are blamed for that difference.”
How Does It Appear in the Workplace?
· A health care professional refusing to provide care or services to a person living with HIV
· Refusing casual contact with someone living with HIV
· Socially isolating a member of a community because they are HIV positive
· Referring to people as HIVers or Positives
Why Does It Matter?
According to International Leading LGBT Expert Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, “HIV stigma in the workplace prevents everyone from feeling safe enough to focus on the tasks at hand and to come into work each day knowing their job and their professional reputation are safe.”
One organization, Hello Clue, believes that HIV stigma in the workplace comes from ignorance to what HIV is. They say that misperceptions that HIV always leads to AIDS and death can make people frightened to interact with someone with HIV. However, this is false and, with proper medications, a person with HIV can live almost the same length of life as someone without HIV. They also show that there is a myth that only certain types of people or people who engage in dangerous behaviours can get HIV. This can lead to assumptions about someone with HIV. In reality, though, HIV is something anyone can get, no matter who they are or what they do.
What Can I Do About It?
Shane recommends becoming educated. “If you know the truth about HIV, such as how it is transmitted, how anyone from any background can get it, and that it is not contagious through conversation or working side by side with someone, you can better respond when you hear these falsehoods stated in your workplace.”
It can be easy to be educated as information about HIV including transmission, PrEP and PEP prevention drugs, and the ways in which a person can become undetectable when they are properly medicated. This information is available on a variety of websites which a person can spend hours or just minutes researching, depending on their interest level and their desire to learn.
Hello Clue recommends protecting people’s privacy. If you find out that someone at your workplace is HIV+, do not tell anyone. Just the way you want your medical information to remain confidential, so do they. First, you do not know if what you have heard is true (it may get you into legal trouble or cause you to lose your job if you share information, so it is a bad idea for you and for the individual). Second, so what if it is? If you take a moment to do your research, you can see that a person with HIV is not going to spread the virus by sitting in the next cubical, trading emails, attending the company picnic, or otherwise doing anything that every employee does each day. As a result, there is no benefit in telling others what you know (or think you know) about someone’s HIV status. There is, however, a real risk of harm to them and to your own career by sharing this information.
Those who have a desire to do more than keep quiet can also support those with HIV by encouraging education. Whether you choose to share HIV facts only on World AIDS Day (December 1), whether you encourage participation in HIV fundraising, or whether you find other ways to show support and acceptance is up to you. There are plenty of ways to get involved and, if you want to but do not know what to do, you can always reach out to your local hospital or clinic or to any HIV/AIDS organization to ask for guidance. This way, you know you will receive the most updated medical knowledge and you will have an expert in your corner to help you decide how you and your talents can best contribute to reducing or removing HIV stigma in your workplace and in your community.
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