Switch On Your HIV Smarts.

11 Ways to Stop Stigma

, by Emily Land

Stigma is a complex social issue, and one that has wide-reaching detrimental effects on our community. When social shame is imposed upon people in a particular circumstance, it can have adverse effects on health: HIV stigma can prevent people from getting tested or knowing their status, and from reaching out to family, friends or other potential sources of social support out of fear or rejection. Stigma related to substance use prevents people who use drugs from accessing beneficial health care, social or harm reduction services. And stigma related to HIV-prevention tools like PrEP impede its uptake by people who might benefit.

So what can be done to reduce stigma? What can we do in our own lives to help combat the negative perceptions and judgments of people living with HIV, those who use PrEP, those who are homeless and those who use illegal substances? In honor of World AIDS Day 2015, we asked San Francisco AIDS Foundation staff to share what they do in their own lives—and what others can do—to end stigma. Here’s what they had to say.

Jimmy_Gale I share my story

“So many people think of HIV/AIDS as something that doesn’t affect them, not realizing that I’ve been living with HIV for 7 years. I share my story as often as I can, in the hopes of opening their eyes to what HIV positive people deal with on a daily basis. Everyone has been affected by HIV/AIDS. We have come a long way but HIV is still here… and so am I.”

—Jimmy Gale, benefits coordinator & PrEP navigator, Magnet

Jody_SchafferDon’t stay silent

“I have spent most of my life with conservative people….friends, family, coworkers. Good people who say stigmatizing things about drug users, the homeless and the LGBT community.  I have to admit that in the past although I did not participate, I also did not speak up. I know many people who stay silent (aka the silent majority). My advice is to speak up! Respectfully yet firmly. There’s a saying I learned from my former boss, “what you permit, you promote.”  I no longer permit the people in my circle to stigmatize others.”

—Jody Schaffer, director of volunteer services

Vince_CrisostomoKnow that I am not a victim

“I am living with HIV. I am not suffering from HIV so please don’t say that—or call me a victim or an AIDS patient. My name is Vince.”

—Vince Crisostomo, program manager, Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network

Sarah_Thibault2Watch your language

“Don’t describe other people using terms such as ‘tweaker,’ ‘stoner,’ ‘speed freak,’ ‘drunk’, ‘crackhead’, ‘dopefiend,’ etc. since these words can be harmful and stigmatizing. And be careful of describing someone as a current or former ‘addict,’ since not all people who use substances are ‘addicted’ or would choose that term for themselves.”

—Sarah Thibault, LCSW, intake coordinator, The Stonewall Project

Jamal_Bey2 Learn and tell others about PrEP

“Learn about and tell others about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This effective HIV prevention tool is helping to bridge the gap between people who are positive and negative and reduce the stigma around being HIV-positive.”

—Jamal Bey, medical peer advocate for the Black Health Center of Excellence

Maggie Monroe Challenge assumptions about mental illness

“Don’t judge or stereotype people with mental illnesses. Challenge any assumptions that label people with mental illness as dangerous, violent, or out-of-control. When you label the mentally ill in that way, you’re stigmatizing me, and a lot of people that I know.”

—Maggie Monroe, outreach manager, AIDS/LifeCycle

Morty_DiamondAccept previously disowned parts of yourself

“Accepting previously disowned parts of yourself releases energy that you were using to keep the threats at bay. Once this energy is freed up, you can use it to feel better about yourself and reduce shameful feelings.”

—Morty Diamond, prevention case manager, CCHAMP Center of Excellence

Jorge_ZepedaFacilitate Empowerment

“Latinas/Latinos, Hispanics, Chicanas/Chicanos, Indigenous, we are all part of the United States, and we all contribute to the development of this democratic land. We have our own history and stories; we have hopes and dreams, we are diverse and unique. We come in all skin colors, shapes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and social, financial, cultural and educational back groups. We often are stigmatized because how we speak English, our body features, and our cultural and social expressions.

Supporting “La Raza” means not judging our communities, instead facilitate our empowerment!!”

—Jorge Zepeda, program manager, Latino Programs

Courtney_MP Advocate for sound policies

“Advocate for policies that help people where they’re at—not where you think they should be.”

—Courtney Mulhern-Pearson, director of state and local affairs

Shawn_DemmonsPut yourself in someone else’s shoes

“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Getting to know someone else’s story will help you see their perspective.”

—Shawn Demmons, community mobilization manager, Black Brothers Esteem

Trans_lifeBuild a supportive community

“Build a community around you that celebrates and supports YOU for who YOU are.”

—Timothy Foster, CoE manager; Tanesh Nuttall, TransLife program manager; Steven Spencer, TransLife psychologist intern; Stephanie Gray, TransLife volunteer



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