Paul, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Condoms and Materials Unit; Brooklyn, N.Y. / Barbados
Right now, HIV stigma to me, personally, looks like a disappearing act. Growing up in the Islands, from a religious background, it was always considered a homosexual disease that was put there because God wanted them to be dead. I grew up with that belief. When I came to this country, and I started working in a methadone maintenance program, I still had that kind of belief. I used to be a little standoffish towards people living with HIV.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my coworkers, who ended up being one of my best friends at the time, was infected with the disease. He used to come by my house; me and him used to chill and drink, hang out. And when he started getting sick was when he finally told me. That's when I realized the disease has nothing to do with a person, within themselves; it's just a disease. So I had to change a lot of my thinking from how I was taught, as a young person, growing up. For me, the stigma has changed a lot. I'm very open-minded. I accept people exactly for who they are, and for what they are. It is a disease that's out there, and if people can protect themselves -- hence I work in the Condom Materials Unit -- we can get a handle on this disease.