Last week I thought long and hard about the reason why someone would get a bio-hazard tattoo on their body, and then I asked myself why I would get one. I decided I would get a Biohazard tattoo not because I wanted to feel better about myself being HIV positive, but it was because I felt for the people that couldn't be open about their status. There are many reasons why a person cannot be open about their status: it could be because of their family, friends, partner/s, fear of persecution, death, etc. But a lot of these reasons come from stigma. Stigma of how one is treated when being open about their HIV status is very much alive and well. I got this tattoo for those mentioned above to help fight against HIV stigma.
I'm not proud to be HIV positive, but I'm proud that I can be open about my status and stand up to the faces of adversity. This is my part that I can do and I'm not ashamed that I did it. There are many activists that do not like the idea of this tattoo and that is okay, but know that I did this not for myself but for others who cannot be open about their HIV status. Also I feel that doing this does open up the room for discussion. From what I hear from others that have this very tattoo representing their HIV positive status, it actually opens up people to dialog about HIV and about their own status. I also feel that people asking questions about HIV will better help with education. I wear the tattoo but the tattoo does not wear me.
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Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own website, and he's even on YouTube. He is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of "Justin's HIV Journal," a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their son, Lundyn. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. He welcomes your questions.
(Photo credit: Don Harris)
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