Healing HIV's 'Viral Divide' Will Take Time and Empathy, Latinx Journalist Says

Executive Editor
Mathew Rodriguez and JD Davids

The "viral divide" -- the gap in communication and understanding between people living with HIV and people who are HIV negative -- is shrinking thanks to recent advances in HIV prevention, journalist and activist Mathew K. Rodriguez contends. However, a great deal of healing still needs to take place, he said in a wide-ranging Facebook Live interview on Oct. 13.

"Even though we're on the same page now, HIV-negative people are still the people of privilege in this relationship, and when you're talking about criminalization and the legal divide, we still need to recognize that," said Rodriguez, who is HIV negative. As a young, gay Latinx man whose father died due to AIDS-related complications -- and as a person taking HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) -- he lives at the intersection of many roads into the HIV community. And as TheBody.com's community editor from 2012 to 2015 who is now a staff writer at Mic exploring U.S. culture and LGBTQ issues, Rodriguez is in a unique position to see and discuss these issues.

Although science now strongly supports the statement that HIV-positive people with an undetectable viral load have a negligible risk of transmitting the virus, "We have to allow ourselves to hear that and to internalize it, because we still operate from a place of fear -- we still let our fears dictate how we're gonna treat other people," Rodriguez said. "It's not a learning process; it's actually an unlearning process, where you have to take so many years of conventional wisdom and say that that was wrong -- or say that it's been updated. It takes a long time to undo that kind of thing in your head."

The viral divide was just one of a host of issues Rodriguez discussed with TheBody.com's managing editor JD Davids on Facebook Live, including:

  • What issues people should discuss for Latinx HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Oct. 15.
  • How issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement play out in the Latinx community.
  • His experiences in Orlando covering the mass shooting at the Pulse night club and its intersection with HIV stigma.
  • Inequalities in U.S. HIV blood donation rules.
  • How current acceptance and availability of PrEP in the U.S. stratifies by race.
  • The state of the viral divide between HIV-positive and HIV-negative people.
  • Perception versus science in the "undetectable is uninfectious" conversation.
  • Why an undetectable viral load may not be the top priority for everyone with HIV.
  • How he'd harness pop culture to change the U.S. approach to HIV education and racial/gender inequality.
  • His role with The Recollectors, a group of people who share stories about family members they lost to HIV-related health problems.

You can watch the archived video of the 30-minute interview below.

Myles Helfand is the editorial director of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Myles on Twitter: @MylesatTheBody.