The reality of HIV and AIDS has evolved in the United States since it was first brought to public consciousness in the 1980s. While we have seen significant progress on prevention and treatment, public understanding lags and the unwarranted negative stigma associated with the disease continues to be an obstacle to eradication.
Advances in HIV prevention and treatment have been rapid and impactful. While we have not yet found a cure for HIV, we have found ways to prevent the virus from growing and spreading. Through treatment, people with HIV are living longer, reducing the chances for transmitting HIV to others, and lowering risk of developing non-HIV related illness. Because of these advancements, ending the epidemic in the U.S. is possible.
Yet, as people living with HIV enjoy longer and fuller lives in the United States, we are hearing fewer of their stories in the media. And all too often, the way the media portrays HIV today stigmatizes those who are living with the virus. Currently, the popular characterization of people with HIV we see, in news media especially, is as potential spreaders of the virus, and in some worst-case scenarios, as predators.
Those who are running for office in 2016 will have a major impact on the future of HIV treatment, prevention, stigmatization, and even criminalization. It is worthwhile for reporters to ask questions of candidates about their attitudes about people living with HIV and plans for treatment and prevention of the virus.
In 2015, GLAAD and our partners prepared a resource for news media outlets to assist in fairly, inclusively, and accurately telling the story of people living with HIV in the United States. Click the image at the right to download.
While 86% of people with HIV are diagnosed and 66% are linked to care, only 37% remain in regular care.
Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men of all races and ethnicities remain the population most profoundly affected by HIV. In 2010, gay and bisexual men accounted for 63% of estimated new HIV infections in the United States and 78% of infections among all newly infected men.
African Americans continue to experience the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities.
While the number of new HIV infections has decreased since the 1980s, new infections have remained at about 50,000 per year for more than a decade.
Best practices for reporters
Include voices of people living with HIV. Often, news coverage silences those who are most impacted by developments in HIV and AIDS issues. Hearing from people living with HIV and AIDS – not just caregivers or researchers – is critically important. Positive change is made when marginalized persons and groups are humanized in the press. Further, it’s important to speak to someone informed about developments and what that means to them. Whenever possible, reach out to the networks of people living with HIV, listed at the end of this page, for comment or analysis.
Be discerning in whether to run a story that focuses on someone’s HIV status. Some stories, particularly those in which criminalization is involved, may invite sensationalism. Reporters, producers, and editors should ask: Does this story serve a public health purpose? Will this fairly and accurately depict people living with HIV? Does this story increase understanding and decrease stigma? If the answer is no, then the story is likely not worth running.
Consult medical professionals who have knowledge of the current status of HIV research. Not every medical professional has the most current information about HIV prevention and treatment. The science related to HIV treatment and prevention is complicated and changing rapidly. It is important to contact medical experts who can objectively discuss recent advances in treatment, transmission rates, and the latest research.
Challenge candidates and pundits with accurate information about HIV prevention and treatment. Often, pundits will make claims about HIV that aren’t based on fact, often a way to score political points. Don’t let these claims stand; instead, present clear and factual information and note when inaccuracies are stated.
Pitfalls to avoid
Avoid reducing people to their illness. Always remember that people with HIV are people first – not a condition or a statistic. People living with HIV live robust, full lives. Personal stories about people living with HIV can help eliminate ignorance about the disease and the stigma associated with it.
Avoid terms that directly or indirectly pit gay people against others at risk for HIV. For example, references to “the general population” typically are used to suggest that gay men, bisexuals and/or MSM should be considered separate and apart from broader prevention and treatment strategies.
Avoid suggesting that simply being gay or bisexual makes one part of a “high-risk group,” or that risk of HIV infection increases simply by having sex with someone of the same sex. HIV transmission is tied to specific high-risk behaviors that are not exclusive to any one sexual orientation.
Use the term “Down Low” only to describe men who self-identify that way. A controversial term describing the phenomenon of MSMs who publicly identify as heterosexuals and maintain sexual relationships with women, the “Down Low” has become synonymous with sensationalized claims that MSM are spreading HIV into “the general population.” Avoid inaccurate claims that the “Down Low” is a phenomenon exclusive to communities of color.
Avoid the use of outdated or pejorative terminology. Refer to GLAAD's HIV resource, HIV & AIDS in the News: A Guide for Reporting in a New Era of Prevention & Treatment for terms and definitions of HIV-related terminology, as well as outdated and inaccurate terms to avoid.
Resources for journalists
- HIV & AIDS in the News: A Guide for Reporting in a New Era of Prevention & Treatment
- Gay Men's Health Crisis: Survey to 2016 presidential candidates on plans to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic
- The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation
- AIDS United
- Sero Project
- Greater Than AIDS
- Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS
- Global Network of People Living with HIV in North America
- United States People Living with HIV Caucus
- Positive Women’s Network USA
- National Minority AIDS Council
- Counter Narrative Project
- Black AIDS Institute
- Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center
- Global Forum on MSM & HIV
- Positively Trans
- Center for HIV Law and Policy
- American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
- HIV Plus Magazine
- POZ Magazine
- The People Living with HIV Stigma Index
- The Body
- My Fabulous Disease
- I’m Still Josh