Opinion : Rise Up to HIV: There's No Shame About Being HIV Positive - by Kevin Maloney

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January 30, 2013

Rise Up to HIV: There's No Shame About Being HIV Positive

by Kevin Maloney

We hear the word stigma thrown around a lot, but do we all know what it is?

Kevin Maloney
Kevin Maloney

The "Rise Up to HIV" campaign was inspired by an image of Chelsea Clinton holding a sign for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. My vision for this campaign is to mobilize people across the United States and the world who are willing to stand up in an effort to reduce HIV stigma. Participants are empowered by the act of pairing a simple statement with their personal story and photo. In turn, these stories inspire hope and empower others to fight stigma. This campaign identifies and mobilizes individuals who are making a difference in their communities. When you are engaged in your own care, you'll engage others, which will in turn create healthier communities.

This is not the first anti-stigma campaign, and it certainly won't be the last. Since receiving my HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses nearly three years ago, I have seen some amazing campaigns doing good things in communities across the country and the Web. But in my opinion, not enough awareness and education campaigns can exist to tackle this issue.

As stated, the purpose of this campaign is to create an overall healthier HIV/AIDS community by reducing stigma through the mobilization and engagement of individuals in communities across the world to proclaim that there is no shame about being HIV-positive. How is this being accomplished? Through the power of social media, and through an army of caring and compassionate individuals, either infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, who choose to take part in this campaign. Organizations are strongly encouraged to become involved in this campaign.

I will keep this campaign going for as long as possible, helping eradicate stigma one picture and one story at a time. This campaign will carry on, evolve and grow and will help in bringing an end to this epidemic. We know that stigma adds fuel to this epidemic, and I will keep on going until we see the end of HIV/AIDS. In the end all the participants will have helped make this campaign the success I feel it will be. This sign-focused campaign is the first phase of a multi-phase approach. Details will be forthcoming in the coming weeks and months.

We hear the word "stigma" thrown around a lot, but do we all know what it is? AIDS-related stigma refers to prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV and AIDS. The consequences of stigma are wide-ranging: being shunned by family, peers and the wider community; poor treatment in health care and education settings; an erosion of rights; psychological damage; and a negative effect on the success of HIV testing and treatment.

Are you currently facing stigma? Well, know this: You matter, your life matters, and you are filled with purpose! You are no less of a person because you have HIV, and if you are treated and adhere to your medication schedule, you can live a very normal and productive life (like many you see in the photos in this campaign). You can still dream big and live out those dreams, because your dreams are not infected. Don't let HIV take away your power; instead, become empowered and rise up to HIV!

How to join the campaign:

  • On Facebook: Simply tag Rise Up to HIV or send a message to Rise Up to HIV containing your photo and a sentence or two about yourself, or a longer bio if you have one, or links to any of your blogs, videos, etc., that you would like for us to feature. Visit the event page to see who else is participating, and you may visit the Facebook album of folks who have already submitted their photos.
  • On Twitter: You can tweet an image and a sentence to @RiseUpToHIV, and use the hashtag #TeamNoShame.
  • If you are not on Facebook or Twitter, you can email your photo to noshame@riseuptohiv.org, and I will be sure to place it in the album on Facebook.

I realize that not everyone is able to be public about their HIV status. I have received many messages stating as such, and many words of encouragement. Their support is equally precious. My reassurance to those who live in a state of fear and repression is a promise: We will keep on keeping on until everyone is free to be able to openly declare that there is no shame about being HIV-positive.

We need to get people talking about HIV/AIDS again -- in schools, at the dinner table, in the car, on the radio, TV and all throughout social media and with foot soldiers on the ground. We need all hands on deck if we are going to finally realize the end of this epidemic.

There is no greater feeling or power than being able to stand up to your fears, not being held hostage by your diagnosis, being amongst people who understand and being knowledgeable or gaining greater understanding of something you may have thought you had no control over but actually do. Rise up to HIV and help end the stigma! Be part of #TeamNoShame.


Kevin Maloney is an HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C awareness advocate. He was diagnosed with HIV and hep C in 2010. A supporter of this campaign is Community Access National Network, a national 501(c)(3) dedicated since 1996 to improving access to care and treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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