Ending HIV Stigma

By Marc Malkin

Ric Reed remembers the day he had his first HIV test like it was yesterday.

“The phlebotomist left the room and yelled, ‘There’s a faggot in there. Someone else take his blood,’” Reed said.

Reed, an Arkansas-native who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for two decades, has been living with HIV for 25 years. 

Last month, Reed participated in AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile fundraising cycling event benefiting San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the HIV-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Like many on AIDS/LifeCycle, Reed hopes to erase the stigma that still surrounds HIV and AIDS.

“I don’t want anyone to come in and experience what we did in the early days of the epidemic,” he said.

Another AIDS/LifeCycle participant, Victor Phillips, was diagnosed with HIV about three years ago. “I still experience some really negative criticisms of being HIV-positive,” said Phillips, who has lived in San Francisco for about 10 years after growing up in Rockford, Illinois. “I want to help break that. So I’m out here. I’m visible. I’m just doing what I can to spread the message and just be a beacon of hope for future generations.”

Phillips said he’s “very out” about his HIV. “I’m very visible. People see my Facebook posts,” he said. “I have a very religious family. I have people who I grew up and they see me on Facebook and social media. Some people see that and they think, ‘What did you do wrong? Are you being punished for something?’ But I’m here to say, ‘I’m happy and I’m healthy.’”

This year marks Angela Disalvo’s second time riding AIDS/LifeCycle. She has seen firsthand how the ride has helped erase stigma. “I really love seeing all the folks who live in the towns come to the side of the road because they know all about us because it’s every single year in the same towns,” she said. “We’re in big cities and we get to see HIV firsthand but these people don’t necessarily get to know anybody affected by HIV. But now they do.”

Learn more about AIDS/LifeCycle at aidslifecycle.org and on Facebook.

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