Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Transcending the poz/neg divide

via xtra.ca by Shawn Syms

"Hostility." John Michael Allan sums up in a single word his experience as an openly HIV-positive man dealing with guys who believe themselves to be HIV-negative. It goes beyond personal rejection, he says, to wholesale ignorance and denial about how the virus is transmitted. This stigma pushes positive guys out of the social scene and into isolation, Allan argues. "I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

The misunderstanding is mutual, according to David Lewis-Peart, a prevention advocate and one of the contributors to HIV Stigma, a unique online blog that recently challenged community members to think about stigma and its impact on both negative and positive gay men.

"I knew not all negative guys would grasp the experiences of positive men," he says of website participants. "But I didn't anticipate the lack of understanding from positive guys about where negative men are coming from — or their frustration and anger."

In these days of increasing criminalization of HIV transmission and exposure, more and more negative folks — from media to the courts to the gay community at large — lay the blame for HIV completely upon those who already have the virus. And in turn, many positive people respond with anger, mistrust and fear. As these barriers go up, so do transmission rates.

How can we reverse these dangerous and counterproductive trends? I asked a group of positive and negative-identified guys who care about HIV prevention. All men expressed their personal opinions, rather than the views of the organizations with whom they are associated.

They told me we ought to move beyond our obsession with the ethics of HIV-positive people, toward a model of shared responsibility and open discussion. Demand accountability not just from individuals, they said — but from communities and institutions that have a direct impact on infection rates. Speak — and listen — to one another, with candour and compassion.

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