Despite the medical advances in HIV research over the last two decades, society still considers HIV-positive diagnoses as a death sentence exclusive to gay men.
This stigma remains, despite the fact that people with HIV are living longer, having children, and are also forming serodiscordant relationships wherein HIV-positive individuals form physical and emotional relationships with those who are HIV-negative.
AIDS Calgary program coordinator Mark Randall is 50 years old and has been with his partner for 12 years. Incidentally, Randall is also HIV-positive.
“I think there are parts of society that have undertaken the steps that they need to get educated to become informed about HIV about how you get it, and how it’s transmitted, who’s at risk, but the vast majority still act like they’re back in the 80’s,” Randall said.
Randall himself was first infected Jan. 1, 1988 and was later diagnosed in October of the same year. Since the 1980’s, the general opinion of HIV/AIDS among the public hasn’t progressed and he believes that both the media and the Christian movement are to blame for the current misconceptions and stigma that people have with HIV and AIDS.
“It was identified as the ‘it’s the behaviours of those gays, that’s why it’s happening to them’. And then the media certainly fed the gay disease, the GRID (gay related immune deficiency). There were a number of factors that really began to stigmatize this at the very beginning, mostly based on fear and ignorance.”
As a worker for AIDS Calgary, Randall works with people who are at risk with contracting HIV. On a daily basis, he helps those who are considered to be part of marginalized groups, including sex workers, drug addicts, and gay men.
“In my experience, I found that people who are living in these identified marginalized populations that have been most affected by HIV are probably more aware of how to protect themselves and the steps they need to do, and of the risk involved in some of the activity they take place in.”
Randall also said that another problem for the AIDS community is a general lack of proper resources for male sex workers and drug-dependent individuals.
“For example we have no way of distributing safe ventilation kits, so we’re not able to prevent certain infections for people who are using crack pipes. We have a very minimal needle exchange program in Calgary.
“It’s effective, but it’s as effective as it should be. So, if you don’t have access to these things — condoms, lube, all these kinds of things — if you’re a male in sex work where do you go for support? There isn’t a lot of support for men in sex work. There’s a number of them for women, but not so many for men.”