More Than Half Of Americans Don’t Want HIV+ People Teaching, Cooking, Or Working With Them

The Kaiser Family Foundation just published a study indicating that Americans have gradually become more comfortable interacting with HIV+ people over the last 14 years. But that doesn’t mean that all Americans want HIV+ people working in their offices, schools, or restaurants mind you.

The study’s data reached some key conclusions:

– Black Americans, and particularly young blacks, express much higher levels of concern about HIV infection than whites.

– Reported HIV testing rates are flat since 1997, including among some key groups at higher risk.

– Thirty years into the epidemic, there is a declining sense of national urgency and visibility of HIV/AIDS.

– At the same time, after nearly a decade of decline, the share of Americans who say they are personally “very concerned” about becoming infected ticked up for the first time in this year’s survey.

– Many Americans still hold attitudes that may stigmatize people with HIV/AIDS, but such reported attitudes have declined in recent years.

– Despite continuing economic problems, more than half of Americans support increased funding for HIV/AIDS, and fewer than one in ten say the federal government spends too much in this area.

– Media, which includes radio, television, newspapers and online sources, is the top information source on HIV across racial/ethnic groups and for younger and older adults alike.

– Three-quarters of Americans could not name an individual who stands out as a national leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and no person who was mentioned makes it into double digits.

While the improved public sentiment regarding HIV+ people pleases me, some of these numbers seem personally discouraging. We’ve dealt with this disease for 30 years and still only 30 percent of respondents want to live with me (as I am poz)—that’s somewhat depressing. Teachers for example pose little to no risk of passing on virus to their students. Why then would a parent have concerns about the serostatus of their children’s educators?

As a resident in a small city (Eugene, Oregon) where even some people in the gay community lack education about HIV-transmission risks, I often myself find myself combating HIV/AIDS-related stigma.

My solution? I live very openly about my HIV status, and once someone knows someone living with HIV, they’re much less likely to feel uncomfortable around strangers carrying the disease.

However, I am glad that people recongize the need for further HIV and AIDS funding. The seeming apathy in communities and diminished profile of HIV in national policy has resulted in thousands waiting for medication while this disease ravages their immune systems—something that has to stop.

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  • Steve

    Honestly, just from their unfortunate experience, I think HIV+ individuals would make excellent teachers or public speakers, of course in areas such as health and human sexuality. I think hearing first-hand accounts of risky sex-acts and how to lower the risks make a bigger impact than reading a standardized biology textbook.

  • Mike in Asheville

    Not quite sure if I should be heartened or disheartened by this study — I guess a bit of each. Good article — hey Queerty, maybe more posts from Ian.

    While it is disheartening that acceptance and compassion are overwhelmed by fear and ignorance, perspective is relative. HIV/AIDS affects less than 1 in 500 people in the US (about 1 in 800 world-wide). For those of us who are HIV+, this disease is in us 24/7 and we are highly aware and acute to our issues. Then there are our friends, family, and the LGBT community that supports us — at best though, they number 1 in 20. This means that for 95 of every 100 Americans, HIV/AIDS is outside of their life-view. I am not complaining about how many American have no life experience dealing with this disease, whether personally or through friends and family.

    Yes this has been going on for 30+ years. But for perspective, it was more than 50 years after acute transmission of polio that a vaccine that worked arrived; active molecular approaches to fight cancer are still decades away from vaccines/cures after more than 70 years; TB too remains an active and hard to fight disease after 100 of medical research and treatments, etc.

    Diseases are scary — I find it heartening that little-by-little more-and-more fellow citizens are becoming more understanding and compassionate.

  • Shannon1981

    I just wish there were more public service announcements/awareness of this. Also, more information on how you can and cannot contract the virus would help people realize that working and living with people who are HIV positive is not the huge risk they think it is. It truly is a shame that after all this time, there is still so much false informaton out there about it.

  • TMikel

    Tough! They used to feel the same way about people with cancer. For the record, I taught many years as an out opening HIV+ man, I still cook for large groups, including a monthly dinner at my local Episcopal Church, and even here in conservative Virginia, I live as an out openly HIV+ man and have no problems. People can learn, sometimes slowly, but only the truly closed minded will continue this prejudice.

  • Art Smith

    Then you have gay men like Dan Savage who are Poz phobic and people who are GLBT who are poz phobic and should know better.

  • Hyacinthe

    I’m 20; a recent conversation with my mother turned up the fact that she had known a great many people in her college +postgrad days who died of AIDS (and possibly some people who were still living with HIV/AIDS.) I had, really, no idea that she had known anyone affected by it. I think the older generation should talk more about the epidemic, make it more of a part of the collective history.

  • LandStander

    I think I would like to see the other options that were presented in the survey. It says this is the number of respondents who said they would be “very” comfortable. This implies, to me, that there was also a “comfortable” option, which appears to be completely left out of the results. I understand that there is a difference between “very comfortable” and “comfortable”, but I still feel that the number of “comfortable” people could have a significant impact on our understanding of the numbers. I do not think people who would have said “comfortable” are HIV+phobic, as they would clearly be comfortable doing any of these things with an HIV+ person. I also think the number of people who would say “comfortable” is bigger (partly because in marketing questions, people tend to choose the inner options; e.g. “satisfied” instead of “very satisfied”), so leaving that out puts a significant spin on these results…

  • Ian Awesome

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments and your words of support. :)

  • TheRealMannequinAdam

    @Art Smith: “Know better?” How, exactly? Why would any healthy person want to be around a terminally diseased, infected person?

  • Jeffree

    @TheRealMannequinAdam: “Infected” isn’t the same as infectious: unless there’s unprotected sex, needle sharing or blood transfusions involved. Being in the same room with the flu is more likely to result in death than sharing an elevator with a poz person.

    P.s.: Where on *earth* did you get that snazzy screenname? Lol.

  • Jeffree'sRealMannequinAdam

    @Jeffree: You are correct. But, there is always the threat of other things. Recall the story of the HIV+ man attacking some people in order to give them the virus. Obviously an unlikely possibility, it’s still something to think about. There is some appropriate paranoia because there is no (known) cure for it.

    P.S.: I less-than-three you!

  • Kevin

    I have been HIV-positive for almost 3 years, and still live with the virus in secret. I honestly don’t think my family or friends would understand, and I’m afraid of loosing them, because they are everything I have. I really wish people would try to learn more about this disease before being prejudist about it. Unfortunately, people are people and I don’t think it will ever really happen. Oh well…

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