On National HIV Testing Day, activists around the world are encouraging people to get tested of HIV, and know their status. This year’s theme is “Doing It My Way,” which is a call to action from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get tested in a way that’s comfortable for them.
About 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and one in seven of them don’t know they have it, according to the CDC. People with HIV need to get a diagnosis as soon as possible so they can seek immediate treatment. According to a recent report, nearly 40 percent of new HIV transmissions in 2016 came from people who didn’t know they were HIV-positive.
In today’s world, HIV is no longer a death sentence. Thanks to antiretroviral medications, living with the virus is like having a manageable condition. However, stigma continues to perpetuate the minds of many folks, which often deters them from getting tested.
“The unfortunate part is that we live in a time where people, their self-esteem, informs every decision they make,” Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown, and former Plus cover star, said to Plus during Marriott’s Beyond Barriers and event in New York City, which celebrated Immigration Equality and VideoOut, a video project that travels the country to amplify voices of LGBTQ people.
According to Brown, who cofounded the organization 6in10, in 2015, with HIV-positive minister Donta Morrison to address the high rates of HIV in the Black community, we need to first inspire people to love themselves.
“When you have people who haven’t been able learn how to fall in love with themselves, haven’t been told that every part they are is perfectly designed and that they’re beautiful no matter what experience happened to them, then of course on days like HIV Testing Day they’re fearful to get tested or say to a friend, ‘Let’s get tested together,’” he says. “I think what’s important is shifting the conversation, saying, How can we tell people you are loved, you are special, you belong, people want to see you succeed, people want you to be happy.”
“There’s so much misinformation around HIV,” he adds. “All the info were getting, yes, sometimes it gets preached to the choir so what happens is that people within the LGBTQIA community have heard the messages. But people outside this community don’t understand. Women, black women, are still being infected at high rates so where’s the messaging happening for them? How can we help them understand that, yes, they can have an HIV-positive partner but [that partner] can be undetectable.”
Brown recently partnered up with Marriott International for its #LoveTravels campaign. This week, Marriott made a landmark donation of $100,000 to Immigration Equality to support its critical work on behalf of LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in their countries of origin. The donation is the largest corporate gift the organization has ever received.
"When you think about immigration you don’t think about the intersection of LGBTQIA people,” argues Brown. “People think of heterosexual families — mama and father and children. But within those families are LGBTQIA people, and not only are they fearing for there lives because they’re asylum-seekers, but there's this added level of When I do find safety, am I still going to be safe if I live my truth? Having campaigns like #LoveTravels helps that conversation because it helps you realize it’s not just families [seeking asylum]. It’s people who are traveling this world who need love and we need to give it to them."
It’s important, says Brown, to make corporations understand that visibility matters. “I spend a lot of time on the Hill, and yes, I’m there because I’m lobbying for certain policies but it’s also just to say, ‘Meet me. I’m a Black man. I’m a gay man. I’m a father. Understand what my experience is like.’”
The lovable Brown carries that message everywhere, including on Queer Eye — which was recently renewed for a fourth and fifth season — and his partnership with Marriott.
“What I try to preach on Queer Eye is ‘Lead With Love’ with yourself, for others, be empathetic for others. It’s all those things,” he says. “When we came in and [Marriott] sat me down a year ago, I was like, ‘OK what are you all doing? It’s great that you want to work with Pride Month, but what happens with the other 11 months?’ For Marriott to work with our community all year, and all year to be leading with love and working with people, that’s what it’s about.”