Living Well with HIV – Silence = Death

During the early years of the AIDS crisis, six gay activists from New York City coined the slogan “Silence = Death”.  The year was 1987, and the purpose was to highlight the comparison between the persecution of gay men in the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis.   The project manifesto stated that ‘silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’  It called upon us to engage with safer sex, and to confront our own personal resistance in addressing social injustice and indifference from government.  Being loud was turned into a virtue and many of us have adopted an ‘out and proud’ culture enabling our broad progress and benefit.  However, almost any concept can be manipulated, abused or maladapted when transferred to a different context.

Lets say that you meet someone non-scene, who chooses to be silent about being gay (a normal human sexual variation) to his friends and family? Many of us can relate to the vulnerable space and personal challenge that comes with accepting your sexuality. How much harder would this process have been if you knew that the moment you stepped out to connect with others of similar sexuality, someone took opportunistic advantage of your vulnerability for their personal gain or agenda? Especially while you are still fearful of unwanted consequences, and well before you were in a strong place of self acceptance. Do other people have a right to ‘out’ you just because they know or suspect?

Apply a similar scenario to someone diagnosed with HIV who chooses to be silent, private, or confidential about living with HIV. Accepting the consequences of a HIV diagnosis can take many years for people, particularly if they fear the negative consequences of stigma or are in vulnerable situations. Is it ok for someone else to rush that process along by gossiping about an individuals HIV status? What if a person finds out about your HIV status simply because they too attended a community program designed to encourage self acceptance of living with HIV. A community is more likely to become empowered and grow when there is mutual respect and trust between its members. Being out and proud is a courageous choice and a deeply personal decision. It is not an enforced moral code that simplistically supposes that all things hidden are derived from dishonest, guilty or shameful behavior, therefore worthy of being outed and exposed at any cost. Either you are honest and trusted, or dishonest and untrusted. Polar views of the world fail to recognise the colour and complexity that many live with day to day. Silence=Death is a great rallying slogan, be careful not to morph the original concept into an excuse to be morally violent with another individuals vulnerabilities.

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