PWN-USA Launches 2 New Training Series

March 17, 2016

PWN-USA is excited to announce our launch of two new web-based training series this month: a 4-part communications training series and a 3-part policy training series, open to all women living with HIV and HIV advocates.

Click below to read more about each series and register for upcoming trainings!

Communications Training Series

Policy Training Series

Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry from the HIV/AIDS Community

February 11, 2016

Dear Entertainment Industry Leaders:

The undersigned organizations committed to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic are writing to call upon you, as entertainment industry leaders, to continue to defend and support the rights and dignity of entertainment industry workers living with HIV and to help promote greater public education on HIV. Read the full letter here.


Key Constituencies Impacted by the HIV Epidemic Hold Counter Conference to Raise Issues Inadequately Addressed by National HIV Prevention Conference & National HIV/AIDS Strategy


Contact: Suraj Madoori,  708-590-9806, or Jennie Smith-Camejo, 347-553-5174,

ATLANTA: This week, as representatives of multiple federal agencies and organizations working in HIV prevention and care convene in Atlanta for the 2015 National HIV Prevention Conference (NHPC), advocates and activists representing key constituencies disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic will be gathering blocks away to highlight issues that are largely ignored by the NHPC. Among the issues that will be addressed at the People’s Mobilization on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (also known as the “Counter Conference”) are the intersection of criminalization of HIV with mass incarceration and the War on Drugs; lack of integration of reproductive justice and sexual health; prevention funding, housing and healthcare access for people living with HIV in the South; increasing employment opportunities for people living with HIV, and upholding human rights for transgender people, immigrants and sex workers.

WHAT: People’s Mobilization on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: A Counter Conference to the NHPC focused on issues facing communities inadequately addressed by the National HIV/AIDS Strategy & Federal Action Plan
WHEN: Monday, 12/7, 10 AM-4 PM; Tuesday, 12/8, 10 AM-4 PM
WHERE: National Center for Civil & Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Blvd. NW, Atlanta
Possible press conference to be announced.

“The LGBT Institute shines a spotlight on issues that don’t often get a platform,” says Ryan Roemerman, Executive Director of the LGBT Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is hosting the Counter Conference. “Our hope is that we can help organizers amplify their message that a strong focus on intersectionality, human rights, and social justice are necessary when creating and implementing strategies to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

The NHPC and the Counter Conference come just days after the Obama Administration’s Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) released its highly anticipated Federal Action Plan to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2020 (NHAS) unveiled this July. While the Action Plan does show some progress in areas long championed by advocates, including discrimination, data collection for transgender women and incorporating trauma-informed care in healthcare services for people living with HIV, advocates say it does not go far enough even in these areas, and falls woefully short in others. For example, sex workers—a population extremely vulnerable to HIV—are mentioned nowhere in the Action Plan. There is still no mandate for reproductive and sexual healthcare services to be provided to people living with HIV in primary care settings. Testing, prevention and treatment for immigrants appear to be addressed only in the context of detention centers. And indicators for addressing homelessness among people living with HIV are so limited as to miss those unstably housed. Of great concern is that the Action Plan contains no clear mechanisms for the involvement or leadership of people living with HIV in the monitoring and evaluation of NHAS. Advocates have also critiqued the Strategy’s sex-negativity and ONAP’s failure to engage with the community in the process of developing the Strategy (see links below).

The Counter Conference seeks to include people living with HIV in the national conversation around prevention happening at the NPHC–the conference, at about $500 per person, is far too expensive for many to attend, especially considering the vast majority of people living with HIV live at or below the poverty level. “The National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s success rests on universal viral suppression, because that will drastically reduce the rate of new HIV acquisitions. But only about 30% of people living with HIV are currently virally suppressed. It will be impossible to get to universal viral suppression without working hand in hand with networks of people living with HIV, representing the most impacted communities. We understand how to look at barriers to engagement in care – from unaddressed trauma, unstable housing, economic and food insecurity to discrimination in healthcare settings,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of Positive Women’s Network-USA, a national membership organization of women living with HIV and a Steering Committee member of the US People Living with HIV Caucus.

Throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday, attendees of the Counter Conference will participate in sessions in forum and workshop settings presented by people living with HIV and allies.


Partners and collaborators for the Counter Conference include: ACT UP/NY, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Counter Narrative Project, Drug Policy Alliance, HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, Human Rights Watch, the LGBT Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Positive Women’s Network – USA, SERO Project, Southern AIDS Coalition, Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative,, Transgender Law Center and the Positively Trans Project (T+), Treatment Action Group, SisterLove Inc., U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, Women With A Vision. For more information and to RSVP, please visit this link:
For more information on advocate critiques of the NHAS 2020 Federal Action Plan, please visit these links:

Separating Science from Stigma Following the Charlie Sheen Disclosure

Charlie Sheen’s public disclosure of his HIV status, while producing some of the predictable backlash and stigmatizing comments we have come to expect, has also presented a fantastic opportunity to educate the general public about the current science concerning HIV, including treatments, treatment as prevention and the reality of transmission risks, as well as HIV criminalization.

Let’s face it–when it comes to HIV, an awful lot of people are stuck in the ’80s and ’90s. Just take a look at the tabloids or the comments sections on mainstream media articles about HIV. Many people still consider an HIV diagnosis a death sentence (and use HIV/AIDS interchangeably); they grossly exaggerate the actual risks of transmission; they have little to no understanding of the efficacy of current medications; they do not realize that adherence to medication makes transmission next to impossible–even without condoms.

And that’s dangerous. It perpetuates stigma around HIV, which, aside from being damaging to people living with HIV, discourages many from being tested or seeking treatment. That same stigma and lack of education around current science leads to the prosecution of people living with HIV even in cases where no transmission occurred or was even possible, and can even fuel violence (look what happened to Cicely Bolden when she disclosed to her partner–he claimed to have killed her because a) having already had condomless sex with her, he must have acquired HIV; and b) assuming he had acquired HIV, it meant he was going to die soon).

However you feel about Charlie Sheen as an actor or a person, the public attention his disclosure has drawn is the perfect opportunity to educate the public. That’s a win-win for people living with HIV and for those at risk of acquiring HIV. Share the video above, the infographic below and the articles linked below–provided by–on social media and by email with your friends, family, coworkers, community and anyone else who might need some education.

How Can I Prevent HIV Transmission?

Five Ways to Stay Strong: How Charlie Sheen’s Disclosure Affects People Living With HIV
In the wake of Sheen’s disclosure, hyperbolic headlines can trigger old, familiar feelings of fear and shame. From Dr. David Fawcett, a mental health therapist who has been living with HIV since 1988, here’s vital advice on how people with HIV can stay strong when stigma flares.

Fact-Checking Charlie Sheen’s HIV Disclosure Interview
Warren Tong, Senior Science Editor at, goes point-by-point to bring scientific accuracy to Matt Lauer’s interview of Charlie Sheen and his physician on the Today Show.

Charlie Sheen Deserves Your Scorn, but Not Because He Has HIV
“Please keep this in mind: The jokes you make about Charlie Sheen won’t hurt him. He’s a super wealthy celebrity in a culture that worships those. But most people living with HIV don’t have those advantages, and the stigmatizing jokes and misinformation can and do hurt them.”

LISTICLE: 12 Ways to Give HIV Stigma a Well-Deserved Side Eye
An engaging set of GIFs of iconic female celebrities accompanies an insightful list of arguments to counter HIV stigma in daily life.

VIDEO: Aaron Laxton: Overcoming Depression and Drug Use, Living Boldly with HIV
After a traumatic childhood, Aaron Laxton had to overcome a military discharge, depression and drug use to come to terms with his HIV diagnosis. Now a popular video blogger and spokesperson, he lives a healthy and vibrant life with his HIV-negative partner Philip and works with homeless veterans facing similar challenges. In this immersive video, Aaron and Philip share their story.

HIV Prevention Portal
The best of the Web on HIV prevention, with features, infographics, video and links to a wealth of content.’s “Ask the Experts” Forums
For decades, has been a reliable and accessible resource for people seeking clear answers about HIV. Whether asking about the risk of a personal encounter to finding the best possible treatment to stay healthy when living with HIV or more, our experts are on the ready to answer a myriad of concerns and queries.

Personal Stories of People Affected by HIV
The real life stories of people with HIV are a source of support for others, and a counterbalance to misinformation, stigma and fear.

And here are some more good articles about HIV in the wake of the Charlie Sheen disclosure:

Why an HIV Diagnosis Is Treated Like a Crime in Most U.S. States (The Daily Dot)
A great article about HIV criminalization laws and why they are ineffective at preventing the spread of HIV while perpetuating stigma.

Charlie Sheen and Celebrity HIV Status (The Feminist Wire)
Great perspective on why Charlie Sheen’s disclosure should not distract from the very real intersectional issues facing so many people living with HIV.

People Are Terrified of Sex (The Atlantic)
Insightful article examining the particular stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Charlie Sheen’s Diagnosis Offers Teachable Moment (USA Today)
A solid look at various angles of the disclosure and the ensuing conversation around HIV.

What It’s Like to Live with HIV/AIDS Today (video) – (CNN Headline News)
Great interview with HIV advocates.

And here are some concrete ways reporters, bloggers and anyone speaking in or through the media can avoid stigmatizing HIV.

For more articles, news and information, keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter!

Organizational Sign-on Statement in Response to Michael Johnson Sentencing

Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Michael L. Johnson
Counter Narrative Project, Positive Women’s Network (PWN-USA), HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, National Center for Lesbian Rights

On Monday July 13, 2015, Michael L. Johnson was sentenced to 30½ years in prison (a concurrent sentence) after being convicted of “recklessly infecting a partner with HIV” and “recklessly exposing partners to the virus.” We are outraged by this sentencing and Johnson’s incarceration. This represents a failure of the justice system and a blatant manifestation of structural violence in the lives of Black gay men.

michael_johnsonThe State of Missouri was able to convict Michael Johnson without having to prove that he had any intent to infect his sexual partners nor demonstrate that he was in fact the person who transmitted HIV to his sexual partners. We are outraged by the criminalization, arrests and imprisonment of those prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws. We will continue to fight for Michael, to repeal HIV criminalization laws, to dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex, and to end the stigma and violence perpetrated upon people living with HIV by these laws. With this mission in mind, we are calling for the following:

The Right for People Living with HIV to choose if, when, and how they disclose
HIV disclosure is not safe under every circumstance. People with HIV may face risks ranging from loss of employment to personal humiliation, custody battles, and violence resulting from disclosure. In addition, the burden of proving disclosure rests on the person living with HIV, not her/his partner. While we are committed to helping create a world where disclosure of HIV status is safe, we reject the notion that disclosure of HIV status should be coerced by the State. Laws criminalizing alleged non-disclosure do not make it easier to disclose, and do not protect people from acquiring HIV.

An HIV prevention policy that relies on disclosure of HIV status fails to account for the fact that data shows a person is more likely to contract HIV from a sexual partner who is unaware of their HIV positive status and that effective care and treatment for people living with HIV reduces the likelihood of transmission to almost zero. The best approach for those who are HIV-negative or of unknown HIV status is to practice self-efficacy and care – an approach which could include prevention strategies such as: (1) Learning how HIV and other STDs are transmitted and effective ways to prevent contracting the virus (2) Taking PrEP (3) Using condoms (4) Getting tested with partners for HIV and other STDs (5) Engaging in lower risk sexual activities (6) Identifying support and resources to leave unhealthy relationships that don’t support protecting oneself (7) Confronting insecurities that lead oneself to seek validation by engaging in higher risk sexual behavior.

Today, HIV is no longer a near certain death sentence. With timely diagnosis and proper treatment HIV has become a manageable chronic disease similar to diabetes. People living with HIV can and are living long, healthy, and wonderful lives. And yet, the stigma remains. The truth is that criminalization of HIV is not really about our fear of HIV itself but the stigma that is attached to it. Those of us who are not living with HIV fear that if we contract HIV that we will suffer a lifetime of discrimination and rejection. Given this fear, those of us who are HIV negative should understand why someone who is living with HIV would not disclose her or his HIV status. Therefore, the real target is HIV stigma, including institutionalized stigma which manifests in laws and policies such as HIV criminalization.

Advocacy Against HIV Criminalization is Advocacy Against Mass Incarceration
HIV is a human rights issue, and criminalization of people living with HIV is a social justice issue. Resisting the Prison Industrial Complex means understanding how inequities in the HIV epidemic and sentencing disparities within the criminal justice system interface with laws that criminalize people with HIV. HIV criminalization laws serve as a means of expanding the categories of people subject to imprisonment, by virtue of an immutable characteristic-positive HIV status. In effect, this creates a biological underclass. HIV criminalization does not provide solutions nor will throwing people into prison lower HIV acquisition rates.

HIV criminalization is another manifestation of a broader agenda which has attempted to control the bodies, the sexuality, and the desires of queer and trans people and cisgender women, especially those who are low income and/or from communities of color. This is the same agenda that plays out in attempts to control women’s access to abortion and contraception and reproductive decisions. This not only includes denying low income women abortion services through Medicaid but the criminalizing of pregnant women who are drug users. The sexual and reproductive rights of communities of color, LGBTQ folks, and women has been policed and criminalized throughout the history of this country. Policies based on restricting our body autonomy, stirring up homo- and transphobia, and spreading HIV-related fears have never been and will never be just or sound public policy.

Alternatives to Criminalization: Towards Restorative Justice and Healing
We acknowledge the HIV epidemic has caused immense pain to many in our communities. As a society, we must be intentional about supporting and providing healing for those who have been affected by HIV. We firmly believe that HIV criminalization does not serve to meet these ends. Prisons will not save us. Criminalization is never a solution. Instead, we call for a wholistic approach based on restorative justice principles. Rather than resorting to criminalizing sexuality of people living with HIV, we should treat HIV as an issue of public health, individual health, and human rights and dignity. We must ensure that everyone who is living with HIV (and those who are not) have access to quality and affordable healthcare. As stated above, data shows that suppressing the viral load of a person living with HIV through effective care and treatment reduces the chances of HIV transmission to zero, even if condoms are not used. If states like Missouri are seriously concerned about reducing HIV transmission, they would do better to focus their resources on ensuring their residents living with HIV have access to high-quality, nonstigmatizing, trauma-informed, affordable healthcare. Instead they perpetuate a political agenda that cuts lives short and violates human rights, especially for people of color and those living in poverty, by refusing to expand Medicaid.

Even more importantly than individual actions, we must push for societal changes to the norms and stereotypes that inhibit sexual autonomy and encourage higher risk behaviors. We must advocate for sex education that challenges dominant paradigms around gender norms and heteronormativity. Thus, comprehensive sex education rooted in modern medical science, sex positivity, and harm reduction, and inclusive of all sexualities and genders is crucial. We must address systemic discrimination that places people at risk for housing, food and employment insecurity. We must advocate for sex education that challenges dominant paradigms around gender norms and heteronormativity. We must address systemic discrimination that places people at risk for housing, food and employment insecurity. We should demand media accountability on pathologized portrayals of Black, brown, and queer bodies and sexuality.

We should demand media accountability on pathologized portrayals of Black, brown, and queer bodies and sexuality.

Demanding Accountability
HIV criminalization laws are intricately tied to histories of racism, sexism, and homophobia. These forces in the present continue to enact injustice and perpetuate these laws. For this reason, we call for greater engagement of LGBT and racial justice organizations and leaders in HIV decriminalization advocacy. We know various local, state, and national organizations and individuals have already stepped up to the plate, but more boots on the ground are needed to fight back against these laws. LGBT and racial justice organizations must take more leadership around this issue by resourcing advocacy, defense litigation, attempts to repeal these laws at the state level, and drawing attention to HIV criminalization as a practice grounded in homophobia, racism, and sexual and reproductive oppression.

We are heartbroken at what has happened to Michael Johnson, but we are no less determined to fight for him, fight for his freedom, and the freedom of all our brothers and sisters incarcerated under HIV criminalization laws. We are also equally committed to standing in solidarity with all movements committed to ending oppression from the dominant culture of policing and criminalizing vulnerable communities. Together we become more powerful. We must resist. We will resist. We resist.

Black is not a crime.
LGBTQ is not a crime.
HIV is not a crime

Charles Stephens
Executive Director
Counter Narrative Project

Naina Khanna
Executive Director
Positive Women’s Network – USA

Suraj Madoori
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

Tyrone Hanley
Policy Counsel
National Center for Lesbian Rights

To sign your organization on to this statement, click this link or use the form below

Write About HIV Disclosure as the Complicated Issue it Is

This is Part 5 of the five-part statement “Five Things Media Makers Can Do NOW to Stand Up to HIV Stigma.” Read the full statement as a single article


  1. A person’s choice to tell someone their HIV status is complicated. Write about HIV disclosure as the complicated issue it is.

Telling another person, especially a potential partner, that you’re living with HIV is extremely complex, and not disclosing is never simply about “selfishness” or intent to harm – emotionally or otherwise.

Important points to keep in mind when reporting on HIV nondisclosure:

a. Simply saying “I’m HIV positive” is not always a safe option. The very real threat of intimate-partner violence may keep a woman from telling a partner she is living with HIV. The cases of Cicely Bolden and Elisha Henson, murdered in Texas due to their HIV status, are two devastating examples of this reality. Because of stigma and discrimination, disclosure may also place a person at risk for losing their employment, childcare provision, and more. Further, in the presence of laws that penalize people with HIV for knowing their HIV status, disclosing won’t protect a woman in a he-said-she-said argument in court, where the person who knows their HIV-positive status usually loses. Women are often the first person in the relationship to be aware of their HIV-positive status.

b. Preventing the transmission of HIV is each partner’s responsibility, not solely the partner who’s living with HIV. But unequal power dynamics in relationships, among other factors, can block the ability of either partner – whether living with HIV or not – to take action to prevent HIV. In many relationships, negotiating use of condoms or other prevention options may be difficult or even possible. One answer to empowering individuals in their relationships and fostering healthy, safe communication is to << address the root causes of inequities that impact our lives and relationships, and drive the HIV epidemic – and to ensure comprehensive, medically accurate sex education. The solutions is not to blame people for having HIV, or cast their sexual partners as “victims.” Where there is a victim, there must be a perpetrator, and having HIV is not a crime.

c. HIV stigma does not operate alone; for many women of all gender identities living with HIV in the US, other stigmas – based on race, class, gender expression, sexuality, ability, or other factors – were likely already a part of life before acquiring HIV, and exacerbate HIV stigma after diagnosis. Any trait that sets a person apart from a societal norm can be challenging to talk about, or to disclose. HIV status is no different.

d. It is the right of all cisgender and transgender women, including women living with HIV, to be sexual beings. A key aspect of internalized stigma for many women with HIV is being cut off from their right to safe, pleasurable, intimate relations. When journalists convey messages that shame the sexuality of people with HIV in their reporting – as if to even be having sex as a person with HIV is somehow wrong – or imply that finding love, having sex, or being in relationships is impossible for people living with HIV, they validate that assumption. A healthy dose of nonjudgmental sex-positive messaging in mainstream media could save and improve lives.

e. Everyone who is living with HIV has a story of how they acquired HIV. It is a part of a person’s history, and does not have to involve a “victim” and a person “at fault.”

How a journalist reports on a story can determine the way the story is received – and the tone of comments people leave. A more humanizing, less oppositional approach to reporting on disclosure could foster more civil, less reactionary online discussion around challenging, and potentially unifying, topics like HIV.

Like what you’ve read? Share this statement on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond using the hashtag #StandUptoHIVStigma!


There Are Facts and Fictions about HIV. Choose Facts.

This is Part 4 of the five-part statement “Five Things Media Makers Can Do NOW to Stand Up to HIV Stigma.” Read the full statement as a single article

  1. There are facts and there are fictions about HIV. Choose facts.

It is ridiculous that, more than 30 years and loads of research and lived experience into the HIV epidemic, we continue to encounter and fight the same myths and misinformation about HIV, in newspapers and on TV as well as in our daily lives.

Three key facts to remember:

a. HIV can only be transmitted through four body fluids getting into the body in very specific ways. The fluids that are capable of containing high concentrations of the virus – blood, semen, vaginal and rectal secretions, and breast milk – must come in direct contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to be possible. HIV transmission is not possible, under any circumstances, through a hug, a handshake, a toilet seat, sharing a cup, or eating food cooked by a person with HIV. Period. The fact that these myths persist in the general population is damaging to the wellbeing of people with HIV, and shows how great the need is for reporting on HIV that is not only accurate, but that actively counters misinformation.

b. People living with HIV can have HIV-negative babies. Now more than ever, women and men living with HIV are exercising their reproductive rights, and adding to their biological families. A baby born to a woman living with HIV has less than a 1% chance of acquiring HIV during pregnancy or birth if the baby’s mother has access to proper care and treatment. And if one partner in a couple is not living with HIV, the best prevention tool yet is for the partner who’s living with HIV to be on successful treatment. Then risk of transmission to the partner drops to virtually zero, even when having sex without condoms. Read more about that excellent and no-longer-new news here and here.

c. Laws that criminalize HIV-positive status do not protect or help women. As of this writing, 32 states and two US territories have HIV-specific laws that attach criminal penalties to the behavior and actions of people living with HIV. These laws are often framed in the media as protecting women “victims” from dishonest partners, but the laws help no one.  These laws codify stigma, and actually deter people from getting tested or being in care (a person who doesn’t know their HIV status cannot be prosecuted for HIV nondisclosure or exposure), thereby hindering public health solutions. In most HIV-related prosecutions, no transmission of HIV even occurred! Further, women have been sent to prison under these laws, and/or had their children taken away for no reason – often by partners who knew the woman’s HIV status but used the laws as a tool of abuse, coercion, or harassment when the woman attempted to end the relationship. Making it a crime not to disclose HIV-positive status should never be framed as the answer to addressing HIV in communities or to keeping people HIV negative.


Like what you’ve read? Share this statement on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond using the hashtag #StandUptoHIVStigma!


Talk to Women Living with HIV

This is Part 3 of the five-part statement “Five Things Media Makers Can Do NOW to Stand Up to HIV Stigma.” Read the full statement as a single article

  1. HIV is not just a man’s issue; it never has been. Talk to women living with HIV.

We, women living with HIV, articulate truth that must not be distilled. While living with HIV, we work, raise families, cook, help aging parents, bear children, march, protest injustices, lead the way at conferences, fall in love, and empower each other.

Women account for at least a quarter of people living with HIV in the US, and more than half of all people with HIV worldwide. This makes us the overwhelming experts. We stand bold, as in front-page news. We are not the stuff of margins.

African-American women were 64% of all women diagnosed with HIV at last count, in 2010. A third of transgender women in the US are living with HIV; the majority of transgender women diagnosed with HIV are women of color. If you are not engaged in conversations about HIV with women of color, you are really missing the point.  You may be missing the whole truth, the undisputed truth, the unadulterated story of HIV in the US.

Resources for finding women’s stories:

Like what you’ve read? Share this statement on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond using the hashtag #StandUptoHIVStigma!


Put the “Living” in “People Living with HIV”

This is Part 2 of the five-part statement “Five Things Media Makers Can Do NOW to Stand Up to HIV Stigma.” Read the full statement as a single article

  1. #WeAreAllPeople: Put the “Living” in “People Living with HIV”

From the beginning of the epidemic, HIV in the US has been perceived by some people as a moral issue and not a human one.  People with HIV need the media to recognize, report, and share our stories as the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and grandparents that we are.

More often than not, those of us who are people living with HIV are framed in media as monsters, infected, dirty, predatory, and more. Those who are reported as having acquired HIV – or having been intimate with a person with HIV – are labeled as victims or as having been preyed upon. In truth, people living with HIV are just that: people. HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that attacks the CD4 cells within a PERSON. And many of our partners choose to be with us because they love us and it is not “risky” to be intimate with us.

HIV is no longer the “death sentence” it was once thought to be. It is a chronic illness that can be managed with proper care and medication. Today, people living with HIV are doing just that and beyond; they are thriving. The life expectancy of a person living with HIV who takes medication is about the same in the US as those who are negative.

When reporting on a story, it is crucial that media makers actually talk to a person living with HIV in order to get an accurate reflection of life beyond the diagnosis of HIV. It is a common occurrence that most people did not educate themselves about HIV until they received a diagnosis. They are not at fault. Many people who acquired HIV state they never believed it could happen to them – in part because messages received through media imply that people living with HIV are somehow different from those who are not, when HIV status is the only difference. Therefore:

a. Coverage of people living with HIV should highlight accomplishments and achievements that are not focused on the virus.

b. Stories of people living with HIV should include our strength, survival, and courage.

c. The media could promote the importance of ending stigma, to create environments safe for knowing one’s status, HIV testing, and open communication with partners.


Like what you’ve read? Share this statement on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond using the hashtag #StandUptoHIVStigma!


Watch Your Language!

This is Part 1 of the five-part statement “Five Things Media Makers Can Do NOW to Stand Up to HIV Stigma.” Read the full statement as a single article


  1. Watch your language! 

The stigma attached to HIV is a significant barrier to living well with HIV.  By working together, we can raise awareness and help improve the lives of those living with HIV by being mindful of our language.  Language can be a tool to empower, or to further stigmatize.  Media messages can support HIV prevention, care, and treatment by using empowering, appropriate terminology:

a. Refer to those living with HIV as “people living with HIV.” Always put the person before the disease.  We are people first – we are not our disease.

b. Use “diagnosed with” or “acquired” HIV, instead of “infected with” HIV or “HIV-infected.”

c. Avoid words designed to shame or judge people – for example:

  • “promiscuous” to describe a person who has had multiple sex partners is a judgmental term and is often applied differently to heterosexual men, gay men, and women.
  • “prostitute” to identify a sex worker – the former is a legal term that does not apply in every context; the latter is preferred.
  • “clean” or “dirty” when referring to HIV status. Clean and dirty should only be used when referring to laundry and dishes, not people.

d. AIDS is a diagnosis and not a disease – understand the differences between HIV and AIDS. People cannot transmit AIDS. AIDS is not a virus. Read a detailed definition of “AIDS” (from The Well Project)

e. Refrain from using the term “full-blown AIDS.” This terms is still used by many media outlets – but there is no such thing as full-blown AIDS. The term is “antiquated, redundant, stigmatizing and confusing” – as one longtime HIV provider recently put it. Replace with “an AIDS diagnosis” or simply “AIDS.”

f. Apply the information above and below to headlines, the gateway to stories – and avoid sensationalist headers such as “AIDS-Positive Alabama Pastor Who Slept with Congregants Banned from Church,” from the Associated Press last October.


For more information: View the full slide set for PWN-USA’s webinar “Eliminating Stigma from the Language of HIV Communications”  – or view a recording of the full webinar including slides and voices of presenters

Like what you’ve read? Share this statement on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond using the hashtag #StandUptoHIVStigma!