Connect with us


The HIV Stigma

The HIV Stigma: How do millennial gay men deal with HIV and the persistent social stigma

It has been more than three decades since HIV was first discovered and became a life-threatening epidemic of our generation. The fear and terror that was shared by many gay men in the 80s still have the warning effect on them even until today. They are the generation that either witness or was directly influenced by HIV’s horrific effect on the gay community, with hundreds of thousands of their peers died young after contracting the deadly virus. Condom and safe sex become the norm for them to avoid becoming HIV positive. Their fear for the virus never diminished even as new medications and advanced biomedical skills are introduced and proved effective in the following years.

With the continuous biomedical breakthroughs in the last few years, HIV has now been classified by the Center for Disease Control as a chronic illness. New medications have proved effective to reduce the viral load of HIV positive individuals to the detectable level. Lifespan of HIV positive individuals can be almost the same as they did before contracting the virus. “A person who is 20-years-old and diagnosed today can expect to live into their 70s, roughly the same lifespan they would expect prior to being diagnosed,” said Dr. Gary Blick, Founder of World Health Clinicians, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

The improved life expectancy has helped to eliminate the terror and fear that all gay men felt three decades ago. For the millennials, what worries them isn’t the threat from HIV transmission, but the HIV-related stigma that continues to force them to live a life of secrecy. I have personally experienced the fear and worry while contemplating about whether getting tested for HIV is the right thing. I remember my first time waiting to get tested at a local health center in Philadelphia. The thoughts that went through my mind were concerns about being labeled if I turned out to be HIV positive, but not where I should look for help. I had heard too many incidents where HIV positive individuals were discriminated at different occasions. The idea of losing your job, being rejected by your family and friends and above all, being alone for the rest of your life just freaked me out. I almost drew back and left the health center without knowing my HIV status. The amount of pressure and fear was just overwhelmingly high that not knowing my HIV status suddenly seemed to be the best option.

Fortunately, the nurse called me in the moment I decided to leave, so I never had the chance to retract my original plan. However, the pressure and fear kept coming back during my later HIV testing appointments. I still struggled to get rid of the pressure stemming from HIV-related stigma. The stigma has created a mindset among millennials that HIV is no longer their problem because advanced biomedical techniques have lower the chances of HIV transmission substantially. According to Peter Staley’s interview with Slate, he believes that only those who have the habit of sleeping around run the risk of becoming HIV positive. But the truth is that most millennial gays are avoiding thinking about HIV mentally. Rather than considering new medication like Truvada as their prevention mechanism, they simply choose not to be reminded of HIV at all. There remains the unwillingness to think deeply about HIV and the generational denial that HIV is their problem. This explains why HIV-related stigma remains persistent and how it affects millennials’ view about HIV related issues.

So even when our fight against HIV seems to move in the right direction, the decades-old stigma stops us from considering the prevention techniques by imposing fear in us. The stigma gets worse as more gay men lose the courage to discuss the issue in public. It forces any public discussion to go underground and often falsely denies the scientifically proved effect of new medication. Before gay men decide to reengage with HIV related issues, they have to tackle the issue of stigma, which remains strong in affecting the millennials’ attitude toward HIV.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Join SimplySxy’s forum discussions now on Society
Do not miss another article on SimplySxy!  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for our latest updates!


William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with tremendous passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps. He is currently teaching English at a mountainous elementary school in Hsinchu as his substitute military service, while still trying to find writing opportunities whenever he can. Contact William via email at


More in LGBTQ

To Top