Stigma sucks

This gay man wants to remind you “HIV Lives Matter”

Jack Johnson in his HIV Lives Matter T-shirt
Jack Johnson (Photo: @jackjohnsoniv7/Twitter)

A gay man with HIV has seen a Tweet go viral this week in which he reminds people about the corrosive impact of stigma.

Jack Johnson is based in San Antonio, Texas. He tells Queerty that he received his diagnosis in September 2017.

On Twitter, he posted a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt that says “HIV Lives Matter.” It’s not the first time he’d posted the image but the first time he did so, he was persuaded to take it down.

“When I posted this the first time, I had a lot of well-meaning but misguided people message me in private ‘warning’ me by saying I should keep this part of myself to myself,” he began.

“Out of annoyance at how persistent people were about telling me suppression was for my own good, I took it down. Not necessarily because I felt obligated to, but because I understood the gravity motivating their messages,” he continued.

“People are dangerously fearful and violent towards things they don’t understand. But for weeks afterward, I began to understand that stigma doesn’t have to be LOUD in order for it to be harmful.

“It tells people they can’t be fully human unless they omit parts of themselves the world tells them is unacceptable. Teaches them they’re unworthy of affection. Demands silence to uphold the status quo.

“But here’s the thing: those same people who kept a polite tone while putting on a muzzle on me weren’t there when I thought my life was over. They weren’t there when homophobia forced me to adapt to this with no help.

“They weren’t there when relationship prospects dried up because men wanted to be with someone ‘clean.’ They weren’t there when I had to force my hands to love myself enough to reach for the pill bottle every morning as my life was crumbling around me.

“What I’m saying is while silence creates the ILLUSION of safety, there is no progress without confrontation. And there is no confrontation without truth. Because freedom is on the other side of fear. So I’m reposting it again. And this time I’m not taking it down.

“If you’re reading this and you’re like me, I just want you to know that them telling you to shut up has EVERYTHING to do with their fear and NOTHING to do with you.

“It’s not your responsibility to carry the weight of someone else’s ignorance on your shoulders. Drop it and fly. If they want to, they’ll grow their own wings.”

Related: ABC News reporter opens up about the stigma he still faces as an HIV+ gay man

He tagged the maker of the T-shirt: @linton_walker  (@unapologeticallypositive_ on Instagram).

Jack told Queerty he originally posted the image in December of 2019. He decided to repost it because, “At the end of the day, fighting stigma is more important than people’s comfort.” In fact, he says, “Stigma is absolutely the worst thing about HIV.”

Johnson said he was pleasantly surprised to get so much positive feedback. His original tweet has had over 8k likes.

If HIV-positive people take anti-retroviral treatment and achieve an undetectable viral level, they can expect to live a normal lifespan. They also cannot pass on the virus while they remain undetectable.

For many people, treatment consists of one pill a day. However, earlier this year, the FDA approved longer-acting, injectable treatment, meaning some people living with the virus have moved on to a monthly injection. It’s expected that further long-acting treatments will be approved soon, with a once-every-two-months injection likely in the US soon.

Related: HIV-positive man shares joy at taking his last HIV-medication pill