By Hana Kajimura
The subject line of the email read: “FACT: SF has the 2nd highest number of reported AIDS cases in the nation.” It advertised a panel on Stanford’s Campus called “The Realities of HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area,” which featured representatives from Bay Positives, a support organization for young people, AIDS Legal Referral Panel, a low-cost legal service provider, and Maitri, a 24-hour care facility. We heard from young people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and professionals in the Bay Area who strive to support and care for them. The panel was so powerful that I want to communicate their message to all of you!
Some take away points:
- Some people think of HIV/AIDS as a death sentence, while others see it as a chronic manageable illness. In reality, it is somewhere in between
- It takes more than a pill to keep someone with HIV healthy.
- It’s hard for people to accept their status and seek health care.
- Disclosure is hard, especially when you’re still trying to start relationships.
- Stigma still exists.
Why youth are so important:
- Young people by nature are adventurous, free spirited and have raging hormones, which puts them at greater risk.
- We feel safe among our peers and don’t think about how far the sexual web extends.
- Trust and love can sometimes get in the way of protecting ourselves.
What we need to do now:
- We need to be better equipped to support and provide care for people with HIV/AIDS. Finding out your HIV status needs to come with benefits, not just stigma.
- We need to demystify sex. How are we supposed to talk to kids in public schools about sexually transmitted infections, when we can’t talk freely about sex? Most of us have never had the opportunity to talk about sex openly in a healthy way.
- We must empower people to talk in a public way about their HIV status. How should we create a safe and open space in which to do so?
- Don’t judge. It can happen to any one of us.
- Be supportive. No one should have to feel alone.
- Most importantly, know the facts. Learn what HIV is and how it affects the body. Learn about stigma, trends, and correct misconceptions.
“I don’t want people going away tonight thinking you can’t be affected by it in any way whatsoever,” one of the speakers said. He said that by coming to the panel, we made a choice, and our actions from tonight on say something about who we are. Similarly, the fact that you are reading this blog says something about who you are and what you stand for. You are electing to make a difference and get involved. Whether that means educating yourself or your peers, speaking up, or getting down to work—we have to be the change agents.