National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day is observed annually on 15th October, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. To celebrate we asked Emmy Award-winning television host and actor, Jai Rodriguez, to write a ‘Love Letter’ to the Latinx HIV positive community.
When I was 16, my aunt died of AIDS. As one of her primary caregivers for several years, I witnessed first-hand the stigma those in the Latinx community face when it comes to HIV and AIDS. For my aunt, a simple trip to the dentist turned devastating when the hygienist used three pairs of gloves for her exam. I will always remember the moment when she turned to me in tears, feeling disgusting because of how she was treated. Unfortunately, this stigma around HIV still exists today and plays a strong and detrimental role in our communities.
Despite overall progress in reducing HIV diagnoses in the United States over the last 10 years, the Latinx community continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV. Contributing to this is the stigma associated with homosexuality and bisexuality, as well as with HIV. As a community, we have to work to eliminate this stigma, because if current rates continue, one in four gay and bisexual Latinx men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.
This is why, for the past two decades, I have been dedicated to advocating for this community. Most recently, I’ve partnered with Positively Fearless, a movement that celebrates the bravery that brings people living with HIV together and aims to educate and help empower Latinx gay and bisexual men to be “positively fearless” in taking charge of their health. Unfortunately, due to fear of judgment from friends and family many people in the Latinx community living with HIV are not receiving treatment, and many of those on treatment struggle to take it correctly. In fact, Latinx people are twice as likely to report missing a dose of their HIV medication, which is a problem because when a person living with HIV misses just a few doses, they face the risk of developing drug resistance, which means your medication stops working to fight your HIV.
So this year on National Latinx HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, join me in encouraging those who are HIV-positive to be “positively fearless” in talking to their doctor about finding a treatment that’s right for them – and sticking to it. By coming together to support the community, we can help create an environment where people can talk openly about their status and their health. Together, we can help end the stigma that continues to play a strong and detrimental role in our communities.