Last night, during an interview with Anderson Cooper, the disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling tried to distract the public from his history of racial bigotry by changing the conversation to attacking and stigmatizing people living with HIV/AIDS.
Among many other offensive statements Donald Sterling made, he said this about Magic Johnson: "What kind of a guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV? Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background."
The Black AIDS Institute strongly condemns both Donald Sterling and this type of thinking. "Donald Sterling's statements are shocking and appalling," says Phill Wilson, the Institute's President and CEO. "We are not going back to dark ages when people living with HIV/AIDS were characterized as promiscuous sexual predators, who should hide and be ashamed. Mr. Sterling would have us go back to the days of keeping children out of school, and denying people with HIV housing."
In an era in which nearly 40 percent of the American public reports having a friend or family member who either has died from AIDS or are living with HIV/AIDS, Donald Sterling's beliefs are not only prejudiced and antiquated, they undermine efforts to fight the disease.
This type of ignorance contributes to HIV/AIDS stigma. Stigma causes people to avoid getting HIV tested and, if they do test positive, delay seeking care and treatment, struggle to adhere to their medication, and in the case of Cicely Bolden, are killed for disclosing their HIV-positive status.
Ending the AIDS epidemic requires us to create an environment in which people feel safe to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners and loved ones, where we fight stigma wherever it exists, and where people living with HIV/AIDS feel no more ashamed by their illness than a person who is living with heart disease.
For 15 years the Black AIDS Institute has been on the front line-often working with the Magic Johnson Foundation and the NBA-to fight stigma, increase knowledge and awareness about the facts of HIV and end the type of misinformation that Mr. Sterling tried to disseminate to deflect attention away from his own bigotry.
And instead of demonizing people with HIV/AIDS and alienating them from care, we should be taking advantage of the opportunity that currently exists to end the AIDS epidemic so that our children can grow up in an AIDS-free generation.
The Black AIDS Institute urges communities, advocates, policymakers and, once again, the NBA to work aggressively to create an environment where we eliminate HIV-related stigma-one where people living with HIV can live their lives openly, honestly, freely and with integrity in a society where that is the norm and not the exception.