Charlie Sheen's Disclosure Brings Exploitation of HIV-Positive People to Light
Right now is the moment for the light to shine on thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS who have been killed, bullied, tortured and more, simply for being HIV positive.
Charlie Sheen, an A-list celebrity, was bullied into disclosing his status. A person of privilege who is part of the Hollywood elite and a family with a rich history has shown us that regardless of the privilege that HIV can open a person up to being victimized and exploited.
Out of the media spotlight, away from the prying eyes of the media, there is an entire population of people living with HIV who do not have millions of dollars to thwart off the impending fear of forced disclosure. For Charlie Sheen, the fear of embarrassment, shaming and the end of his career might have resulted had the world discovered that he is HIV positive. For others, a disclosure that they are living with HIV could result in bodily harm, death or loss of employment.
As we have this conversation regarding Sheen it is my hope that we will take this moment to examine how forced-disclosure impacts marginalized groups within our country.
Earlier today, I did an interview with a local Fox News affiliate here in St. Louis. The reporter asked me if Sheen's disclosure would benefit communities of color. My response was that Sheen's disclosure would have little impact on communities hardest hit by the HIV epidemic. It would, however, offer an opportunity for a brief moment to examine how HIV is viewed in our country in the year 2015.
Let us not forget that Sheen is coming from a place of privilege that few will ever know. The problems of the ultra-rich and celebrities are quite different from the rest of us. This is a moment however where we can see the vulnerability of one person who through his health condition has been reduced to the base level of trying to protect his livelihood, children and family. In the end there was nowhere else to run, nothing more to pay out.
Sheen chose to stand and face his accusers and speak his own truth. This is the empowerment that I wish all people living with HIV could and would have, but I understand that it is not possible.
Although I am out with my HIV-positive status at work and school, I understand I do that from a place of privilege.
As a white male, that affords me certain protections. I do not fear that I will lose my job because of my HIV status. I do not fear that my school will expel me for being HIV positive. I do not fear that I will be killed in the streets of my neighborhood tonight as a result of being HIV positive.
As a result, I am able to say certain things without fear of retaliation or recourse. This is not the case for many of my brothers and sisters around the world living with HIV. If you add in the disparities already plaguing communities of color as well as the trans-community, HIV is just another in a long line of disparities stacked on top making it hard simply to survive much less thrive.
The exploitation of people living with HIV is not a new phenomenon. I have heard countless stories of how a person will hold that information over a former friend's or ex- lover's head. This is also the grounds for many HIV criminalization cases that are based on "he said-he said" reasoning and justification.
HIV criminal law as currently written holds the fear of prosecution above every person's head who is living with HIV. It is for this reason that many people choose to be alone rather than try to navigate the waters of dating while being HIV positive.
Many narratives are being thrown around today as a result of the news regarding Sheen.
I would hope that in the mix of talking heads and commentary that we remember the communities who will never be able to step out from the shadows in a media interview. I long for a day when having HIV is not a blemish on our character, but it is simply a health condition.