Let's Stop HIV Together CDC Campaign

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

Here’s the thing: I’m part of the generation that was college age and ridiculously clueless when talk about HIV and AIDS started seeping its way into mainstream, pop cultural conversations at fever pitch, all of it accompanied with a dizzying amount of misinformation. Couple that with the fact that I was young and prone to doing stupid stuff, and it made perfect sense that I believed that dumb boy when he said it was okay to have sex with him unprotected because there was no way he could have The AIDS. “When I get a cut, it heals, so I can’t have it because when you have The AIDS your cuts don’t heal.”

That’s all he had to say to get me to drop my insistence that he wear a condom. My cuts heal so I can’t have The AIDS.

Now this was back in the late 80s, when information about HIV/AIDS was scant and extremely scary, and we college girls thought that the only thing that needed protecting was our ability to keep from becoming mothers before we got the college degree and a wedding ring. The Virus was what homosexual men passed from one to the other—them and drug addicts. Regular girls—girls who weren’t fast or taking needles in their arms or sleeping with gay men? Well yeah, we had some secret “regular girl” potion in our blood that automatically dismissed us from catching The AIDS. So it was safe to pop The Pill to ward off pregnancies and pay no never mind to making a boy wear a condom. Especially if he protested.

Here we are, some 25 years later, and stupid observations from racist homophobes like Don Sterling, who earlier this week said NBA legend Magic Johnson should be ashamed of himself for having the virus, put an exclamation point on just how far we haven’t come. Yes, medical advances have made it so that humans who contract the virus can better manage their disease and certainly live longer, fuller lives, and we’re not half as dumb about how we can contract HIV. But the stigmas are still there, burning like a flashing, neon light. All too often when we think about HIV and AIDS, we think of it collectively in statistics and “don’ts” and “can’ts,” rather than the fact that humans with hearts and and hopes are living full lives while managing the disease.

There is most certainly a distinction, you know. One sees folks with HIV/AIDS as casualties. The other, human beings. Certainly, it’s high time we embraced the latter.

That’s why I’m so proud to partner with the CDC’s Lets Stop HIV Together campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on the lives of more than one million Americans living with the virus. It also seeks to fight the stigmas associated with the virus by showing that people with HIV are real people—mothers, fathers, friends, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, partners, wives, husbands and co-workers, of all races, ages, genders and sexual orientations.

Nothing could be more true of Michelle and Masonia, two mothers and activists living with HIV. These women—these heroes—are sharing their stories to help put a human face on the challenges and triumphs they’ve faced and enjoyed respectively as they’ve battled the virus. Their stories are nothing short of inspiring: Michelle, a mom of two, found out both she and her baby were HIV positive when her child was but an infant, and she and her daughter had to fight all kinds of stigmas related to their diagnosis, including a teacher who surrounded her baby with garbage bags out of fear she’d pass her disease to fellow classmates. Masonia was diagnosed HIV positive and discovered she was pregnant all within a two-week span when she was but 23 years old—a diagnosis that could have easily put her over the edge. But rather than fold up and look at life like it was ending, Masonia chose to embrace life—her own and her baby’s—by learning how to manage her illness and her pregnancy, for the sake of herself and her child.

Michelle and Masonia, who are now advocates, tell their inspiring stories in the videos below; I encourage you to watch them, so that you, too, can put a human face and story to virus. They are bigger than statistics. They are bigger than HIV. They are mothers and women and determined and beautifully human.

This much I know is true: we must re-double our efforts to assure that all people know about HIV, how to prevent transmission, their HIV status, and that people with HIV are linked to care, and treatment and prevention services. We can stop HIV Together—by getting the facts, getting tested and getting involved.

Follow the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign on Facebook and Twitter and visit the official site to learn more.

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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