Celebrate U=U! What Undetectable = Untransmittable Means for the HIV Community

Contributing Editor
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That's a great picture of me, right? It was taken at a U=U dance party held in the West Village, NYC, to educate and celebrate Undetectable = Untransmittable.

When I first heard about U=U, it really blew my mind. I've been fortunate to be on effective treatment since I was diagnosed HIV positive in 2003, and I started testing undetectable shortly thereafter. The realization that no one has been able to get the virus from me, either from a sex act or from a paper cut, during most of my HIV life is news that needs to be shouted from the rooftops!

Yet, many people are skeptical. Science doesn't make believers out of everyone, and certainly, the collective PTSD that our world lives with because of the AIDS crisis doesn't help.

I reached out to a few members of the worldwide HIV community to find out their views on U=U and how it has affected their lives. Check out what these sexy, smart, fabulous men have to say about it.

Photo credit: Bruce Richmond.

Brady Dale Morris

Nashville regional HIV planning council co-chair, community connection committee chairman, Nashville, Tenn.

The U=U message restored that part of my humanity that HIV instantly robbed me of on the day I was diagnosed with AIDS. Now, those deep wounds to my soul, as well as the trauma I never even realized I was harboring, are beginning to heal.

I will forever be grateful for the gift U=U brought to me and for all those who played a part in disseminating the information.

Photo credit: Amiin Warrick.

Gabriel San Emerterio

CUNY BA student, New York, N.Y.

U=U to me is a real possibility to eradicate stigma and ultimately HIV/AIDS! Along with my work as an activist/advocate, staying undetectable is an integral part of my commitment to ending the epidemic -- while considerably expanding my dating options.

Knowing that I can't transmit the virus to a trusted partner (I'm single), allows us to enjoy our bodies responsibly and without fear. These, I believe, are just a few of the wholesome benefits that will result from the U=U campaign.

Photo credit: Selfie by Gabriel San Emerterio.

Charlie Tredway

Graphic designer/illustrator and make-up artist, Sandringham, Auckland, New Zealand

When I won Mr. Gay New Zealand as an openly HIV-positive advocate, I encountered all manner of pushback and stigma. What got me through it was the incontrovertible power of U=U, and the science behind an undetectable viral load and how that fits in the prevention landscape.

Times have changed for the HIV response, and now, we have highly effective options. An undetectable viral load is an equalizer that helps us unpack the fear and outdated notions leftover from the early years of the pandemic. But to do that, people need to get informed and stop perpetuating ignorance and obstruction.

Photo credit: Selfie by Charlie Tredway.

Robert Suttle

HIV activist, New York, N.Y.

I always say there is a reason why we're taking the medication. It's because antiretroviral treatment [ART] works, and we should act as if we know it works. I recognize U=U as a significant breakthrough in HIV prevention.

For too long, many black gay men living with HIV have been left to feel that we are inherently dangerous to our family members, friends or partners, and not fit to live a full and meaningful life. Today, I implore every person to apply reason and science and celebrate with us that U=U is a valuable benefit that helps to improve our self-esteem and boost morale, decreases isolation and depression and improves our health through access to better information about care and prevention.

Photo credit: Selfie by Robert Suttle.

Marco Castro-Bojorquez

Organizer for Venas Abiertas, steering committee core member for the caucus, Los Angeles, Calif.

The fact that virally suppressed people living with HIV and taking ART can not transmit the virus is a milestone in our journey fighting HIV/AIDS. The evidence shows that treatment as prevention is a reality and translates to a better life for people living with HIV.

This past year, I struggled with difficult mental health issues, and at one point, I wasn't undetectable. It reminded me that social and structural barriers -- terms that lack descriptive power and depth -- stay in the way of so many people's ability to achieve an undetectable status.

Also, don't yuck someone's yum! We know how to prevent and/or suppress HIV and prevent AIDS from happening; we just need to make it available for every single human being. It is our right!

Photo credit: Cesar Canedo.

Eric Leonardos

Hairstylist, public speaker, advocate for the HIV and queer community, Los Angeles, Calif.

The first time I read an article in a medical journal reporting that being undetectable meant that I could not transfer HIV to another person, I almost did not believe it. It wasn't until I heard my own doctor confirm this information that I began to trust it.

We have to provide people with information that is current, tested and factual. Now, along with practicing abstinence, using condoms, providing easy access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and [having] the knowledge that U=U, we can better equip people to protect themselves from contracting HIV. This allows people to relax a little more around this subject.

HIV should no longer be an obstacle to love and intimacy for people living with HIV.

Photo credit: Corey Fox Photography.

Peter Dombret (alias Peter Positive)

Author, business owner at Be Positive (BE+), Brussels, Belgium

Life is great. I am more than ten years HIV undetectable. Now that the science has proven that U=U or Undetectable = Untransmittable, you can really be more yourself again. Therefore, U=U means for me like it sounds: You = You, a step forward to be again more myself.

You = You gives me more sexual freedom without being scared of transmitting my little pets, as I used to call my viruses, to somebody else. Great news for me and all the people who are living with HIV.

So, U=U! You = You! Be more yourself again without being scared. Thanks, science."

Photo credit: Mike Godlieb.