Richard Hutchinson: HIV affects everyone
I was diagnosed in June 2015. It was shocking. There was a time when I stopped breathing.
Because I am a public health professional, I did a lot of health education and counseling for other black men with HIV. I thought about their stories, their courage and how they went through their diagnosis. Even though I was scared, I felt blessed by the shoulders of everyone I could stand on.
The support from my friends was amazing, but it wasn’t always an easy journey. I already have so much on my back. I am young, I am black, I am gay and I have HIV. And the world is filled with so much stigma.
In the black community, HIV is even more stigmatized, which is proliferated by the values of the Black Church. Sex and sexuality are demonized. When you are gay, your sexuality is even more demonized.
People think of it as a disease of gay people, but HIV affects everyone. Anyone in the world can get HIV. We are all at risk, so we should talk about it.
Another misconception is that people with HIV are promiscuous. We are considered sexual deviants. It’s a label that many of us have to wear and internalize. But this is often not our lived experience.
I think a lot of people believe you can tell when someone is HIV positive, but we no longer live in a time when people with HIV are dying. Thanks to advances in biomedical research, people like me are living longer. There are people in their 50s, 60s and 60s who are living with HIV.
Then there are the relationship issues. People living with HIV may be in the open space of “No one will love me” or “I’m going to have to date people living with HIV to find love.” I am undetectable, which means my viral load is low, which means I cannot pass HIV to you.
The treatment is working. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, the medicine people take to prevent HIV, works. I have dated people on PrEP and have had sex with people on PrEP. They kept their HIV negative status.
The work I do with my organization, He is Valuable Inc., grew out of my diagnosis of HIV. Our mission is to identify, strengthen and celebrate the value of queer black men through anti-stigma campaigns and other programs.
I want people to know that HIV is a social justice issue and a human rights issue. If we all work together, we can really eliminate this thing. We all have a role to play in ending this.
Our sincere thanks to