Andrew Markle

Ending the Stigma Against HIV/AIDS

Filed By Andrew Markle | July 14, 2014 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Deep South, Florida, HIV/AIDS, shame, shaming, stigma, stigmatizing a disease

stamp-out-stigma.jpegWhen I was younger, I will admit, I was a little dumb. I lacked a lot of common sense and grew up in a fairly religious household where God was the figurehead. What makes this more interesting is the fact that when I was growing up, I had a gay uncle who had AIDS. While at the time, little was known about it, it still scared me.

As I grew up, I felt incredibly dumb for feeling the way I did. I wrongly assumed when I was younger that if I even touched my uncle, I would contract AIDS. Bizarrely enough, I vividly remember a visit to my parents' house where Uncle Mark was followed around with a can of Lysol disinfectant just in case. I can only imagine how incredibly miserable that experience was and how rude and inconsiderate we were as children.

To feign ignorance and to excuse that behavior, at this point, is just sad. I remember having no relationship with my uncle whatsoever. My father wasn't real keen on us being around him and I remember "adult conversations" alluding to the fact that his presence wasn't generally accepted among the rest of the family despite his incredibly "normal" (whatever that is) "lifestyle."

I grew up in the Deep South. A lot of people wouldn't think twice about central Florida being considered the "Deep South," but it is far more southern than you think. It's more Republican than Mississippi and sometimes more redneck than even McIntyre, Georgia, where Honey Boo Boo and her family hail from. The South is no stranger to controversy when it comes to LGBT rights and how the HIV/AIDS epidemic was viewed. (In some cases, it hasn't changed at all since my 1988 upbringing in a small Florida town of around 1,000 people.)

Where I'm from, you're not gay. In fact, you're not anything but the societal norm. You get married, you have babies, you work in a phosphate mine (or similar job), you go to church on Wednesdays and Sundays and you go about your daily business without disturbing society. That's how it is. There's no being different. There's no stepping out of line. There's no being gay. If you are different, don't expect to stick around for long. It's not accepted.

I don't use that as a crutch for my ignorance. In fact, in the last few years, I've felt deep remorse for the absolute insolence and disrespect that I showed my Uncle Mark. He died at age 32 in Lakeland, Florida, having succumbed to complications as a result of AIDS. His life was remembered in a short ceremony and he was buried shortly after. His partner, Wayne, was almost completely forgotten by the family other than my grandmother, except recently when Wayne added everyone on Facebook.

What is most upsetting about this entire situation isn't just the sheer level of disrespect that I showed my late uncle. It's the disgust that I have with myself for perpetuating stereotypes at such a young age. Now, as an openly gay male, I find it disturbing when people treated other people who are positive with disdain, as if they're diseased in some incurable way.

There is so much stigma that surrounds a person who is positive and it affects all of us, whether we like it or not. Recently, I had a friend post a picture of his negative status on Facebook and he was immediately lambasted by people who believed that he was perpetuating the negative narrative that being negative meant you were clear or better than someone else. The worst part of that entire discussion is that it wasn't that way at all. He simply was trying to eliminate the stigma by saying, "It's okay to post your test results."

The problem we have today is shame and we are equally responsible for perpetuating it. It's time to stop being divided, lift our LGBT brothers and sisters up who are affected by HIV, and support the cause as much as possible so we can eradicate the epidemic once and for all.

Most importantly, it's time to stop being little Andrew Markles and being afraid of something that has a cure within its reach. It's time that we end the stigma and love one another the way we should always. It's time we stop the shame.

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