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Editor's Letter: It's Time to Eradicate Stigma Once and For All

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“I’m sorry, the results are positive.”

As the just-turned-16-year-old me sat in a dingy, fluorescent-lit room in a local clinic, these words seemed to shoot down my spine and into my stomach simultaneously. But for me, it was not an HIV diagnosis. In that moment, I learned I had become pregnant from a one-night encounter at a high school party a couple months prior (one that I’d hoped to forget).

Upon learning of my “condition,” I was immediately removed from my high school and sent to a continuation school for pregnant teens and “juvenile delinquents” (the boy who impregnated me, however, was not). Within the blink of an eye, my life was changed forever. I was ostracized from society. My high school friends stopped coming around. I was no longer invited to parties. I was an unfortunate social casualty, quickly forgotten — now just “damaged goods.” Or so the world had me believe at the time.

As I take on my new role as editor in chief of Plus, I tell this story not to suggest I understand what it’s like to receive an HIV diagnosis or what it’s like to live with this condition — but rather to illustrate the common enemy many of us share: stigma. It is stigma that shames us for doing nothing wrong; for being normal, healthy, sexual beings who are sometimes merely victims of scientific realities.

It is stigma that begins to erode at our sense of self, making us somehow feel dirty or bad or unworthy of love. But the good news is, stigma is a lie. It’s an illusion created by an often racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic society intended to make us feel othered. And when one starts to understand this, one can finally be free.

Though it’s certainly easier said than done, I eventually began to dismantle the effects of the stigma that so damaged my young sense of self. And, much like our cover star and Person of the Year, Good Morning America’s Tony Morrison, I slowly learned to find my self-worth, my power, my voice, and most importantly, regain my self-love.

In my four years as a journalist and editor with Plus, I’ve been struck time and time again by the emotional similarities of my story compared to those living with HIV — which reminds me that we are all more alike than different. But even more so, it reminds me that stigma must be stamped out. 

Some of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life happen to be living with HIV — and I will no longer accept a world that would ever make them feel anything but amazing. Period.

This is why I’m especially proud that my first issue as editor in chief celebrates the 25 Most Amazing People of the Year. Every year this list honors the activists, artists, politicians, health careworkers, and others living with HIV who are not only dedicated to eradicating stigma but the virus itself.

We also celebrate World AIDS Day in this issue, observed annually on December 1. This year, contributing writer Ashley Innes re-examines WAD through a post-pandemic lens.

As 2021 draws to a close, we reflect on another tumultuous year of political upheavals and pandemic woes — but we’ve also had some progressive moments too. Drag Race All Stars’ Trinity K. Bonét spoke about U=U on national television and Broadway legend and Pose star Billy Porter came out about living with HIV. Queer musical superstar Lil Nas X used his platform to talk about HIV in the South. And today, we are closer than ever to an HIV vaccine and cure.

Sure, we may not know what the future holds, but together we can continue to make it a little bit brighter for each other.

Peace & Blessings,
Desirée Guerrero
Plus Editor in Chief 

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