Though Not A Death Sentence, HIV/AIDS Still Holds A Powerful Stigma

"I was more so afraid of the stigma attached to the disease than the actual disease," says Guy Anthony.

Guy Anthony: Listen to interview w/ Rachel Martin Here! 

An HIV diagnosis today looks very different than it did in 1985. It’s not a death sentence. People are better educated about the disease, treatment options are more effective and easier to access.

Guy Anthony was diagnosed in 2007.

”I often tell people I’m spoiled, living in D.C.,” says the now 29-year-old Anthony. “You can walk by and see a Truvada [ad], which is an antiretroviral, you’ll see a billboard for that. Or you’ll see a poster that says, ‘God still loves me,’ and it has an HIV advocate there.”

King was diagnosed with HIV 20 years before Anthony — but in some ways, King says, younger generations have had a tougher time.

”It’s my firm belief that as medications have improved, and as the lives of those of us with HIV have improved, social stigma has risen,” King says. “In the early years, we were doing everything we could just to help the dying, and there was no time to point fingers or blame or judge people ...

”Now, if you were to test positive today, how did that happen? What a disappointment you are. Why weren’t you listening to all these prevention messages that we’ve been giving you all these years? You must be a terrible person.”

That rings true for Anthony.

”I was more so afraid of the stigma attached to the disease than the actual disease,” he says. “You know, because every day I have to sort of wake up and deal with the fact that I am a black gay man in America. And that’s difficult in itself. So, to add, HIV positive serostatus onto that, it can be a lot.”

He has learned how to manage the social and medical aspects of his diagnosis, but it has taken a toll on his personal life.

”Not that I’m not an amazing person, but there are some people that will simply not date me because I’m HIV positive,” he says.

After trying several different treatments, he found a drug that works.

”For the first month, I may have had a few side effects, maybe, like, a headache every morning and some nausea,” Anthony says. “But after three weeks: easy, smooth sailing.”

But the fact that HIV can now be managed is not something Anthony or King take for granted. Anthony has turned this disease into a career, mentoring other black gay men with HIV.