What I Want You to Know About Living With HIV
Richard Hutchinson: HIV Affects Everyone
I was diagnosed in June 2015. It was shocking. There was a moment when I stopped breathing.
Because I am a public health professional, I was doing a lot of health education and counseling for other Black men with HIV. I thought of their stories, their courage, and the way they’ve gotten through their diagnosis. Though I was scared, I felt blessed by all the people’s shoulders that I was able to stand on.
The support that poured out from my friends was amazing, but it hasn’t always been an easy journey. I already have so many things on my back. I’m young, I’m Black, I’m gay, and I have HIV. And the world is filled with so much stigma.
In the Black community, HIV is even more stigmatized, which is proliferated by the values of the Black church. Sex and sexuality are demonized. When you’re gay, your sexuality is even more demonized.
People think of this as a gay man’s disease, but HIV affects everybody. Everybody in the world can contract HIV. We’re all at risk, so we should be talking about it.
Another misconception is that people with HIV are promiscuous. We’re seen as sexual deviants. That’s a label that a lot of us have to carry and internalize. But that is often not our lived experience.
I think a lot of people believe that you can tell when someone has HIV, but we no longer live in a time when people with HIV are dying. Because of advances in biomedical research, people like me are living longer. There are people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who are living with HIV.
Then there are the relationship issues. People with HIV may be in the headspace of, “No one’s going to love me,” or, “I’m going to have to date people with HIV to find love.” I’m undetectable, which means my viral load is low, which means I cannot pass HIV on to you.
Treatment works. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, the medicine people take to prevent HIV, works. I’ve dated people on PrEP and I’ve had sex with people on PrEP. They’ve maintained their HIV-negative status.
The work I do with my organization, He is Valuable Inc., grew out of my HIV diagnosis. Our mission is to identify, reinforce, and celebrate the value of queer Black men through anti-stigma campaigns and other programs.
I want people to know that HIV is a social justice issue and a human rights issue. If we all work together, we can really eliminate this thing. All of us have a role in ending this.