Talking about stigma

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07 Sep 2017

Queensland Positive People has launched a new ‘Talking About’ series of films. As Sharna Quigley reports, this time people living with HIV share stories of stigma and resilience.

Highlighting the lived experience of stigma on film has always been a goal of QPPs. A renewed impetus for such a project was born out of research that demonstrated a lack of noticeable shift in attitudes towards HIV. Although there have been major advancements in the biomedical response to the disease, unfortunately, the community response remains stuck in the 1980s.

Surveying members of the general population, research commissioned by the HIV Foundation Queensland found that 21 percent of people think you can get HIV from kissing; 13 percent of people think you can get HIV from sharing a drink; 67 percent think you can get HIV from donating or receiving blood; while, shockingly, 47 percent said they wouldn’t welcome someone with HIV into their family.

In light of the findings, QPP decided that it was imperative to reinvigorate the conversation about HIV stigma in Queensland. After all, through perpetuating fear and false information about the virus, HIV stigma affects the entire community. Stigma surrounding HIV discourages people from getting tested and seeking treatment which, in turn, leads to new infections. 

The Talking About Stigma series acts as a call to action for the community to unite in the rejection of HIV-related stigma. It aims to emphasise that it is not solely upon the HIV-positive community to become more resilient to stigma, rather, it is incumbent on everyone — whether positive or negative — to unite in the fight against stigma and discrimination.

The series of four short films debuted at a community launch held in Brisbane and was introduced by QPP’s Executive Officer, Simon O’Connor. “Stigma remains an aggravatingly persistent hurdle that impedes our progress in our response to HIV,” said O’Connor. “Stigma is socially constructed. Stigma is pervasive. It happens at many levels: within employment, within healthcare settings and other institutions, within community, and at the personal level. In turn, people living with HIV can internalise the community’s perceptions of HIV, which results in very real feelings of anxiety, social isolation and psychological distress.”

Featuring a diverse selection of positive people, the films reveal how people living with HIV deal with stigma differently while also showing how the wider community continues to misconceive the virus .The films feature Matt – a former AFL player who took a legal challenge to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal, and won; Susan a global HIV activist who speaks of lifting the burden of secrecy around her status, self-stigma, and the fight for visibility of women with HIV; Aaron – a young man whose experience of stigma in the workplace turned his focus to HIV activism; and Jose and partner Carlos — a couple currently navigating Australia’s migration policy.

Each film traverses a different aspect of HIV stigma. It is hoped that the films will encourage people in the wider community to put themselves in the shoes of a positive person and re-examine their own perceptions of HIV. Perceptions based largely upon outdated thinking. After all, the HIV landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. A positive person on treatment with an undetectable viral load cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.

Talking About Stigma is the third and final film in QPP’s ‘Talking About’ series — previous instalments include Talking About HIV and Talking About TreatmentThe first stigma film to be released — Matt’s story — can be viewed here.