World Aids Day: Coming out twice

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Michael_Manacop_Worlds_AIDS_DayIn honor of December 1, World AIDS Day, a gay college student recounts his story of being diagnosed with HIV and encourages action this holiday season.

When I was diagnosed with HIV in June of 2012, I knew my world would be flipped upside down and changed forever. I just had no idea how.

See, I’m a 21-year-old college student at San Diego State University. Though going to college has made me more aware of the world, even my education and university surrounding couldn’t prepare me for that test result.

This is partly a result of my upbringing. I grew up in Redding, Calif, a conservative town, and not only was our Filipino community small, but so was our out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, community. When I moved to San Diego for college, I met more LGBT people. But even so, I was unaware how severely HIV/AIDS continues to affect young LGBT people. It’s a common misconception of my peers that HIV/AIDS is a thing of the past.

So I didn’t exactly know where to turn when I found out my HIV status. And honestly, before telling friends or family, my biggest concern was for them to not be worried or scared for me. Just like the difficulty in coming out as gay, there was no correct way to tell someone you have HIV without having to address any preconceived notions or misconceptions.

When sharing my status with my family, the greatest challenge was thinking they would blame my sexuality as the reason for my diagnosis. I struggled really hard with this because it was already a challenge for them to completely accept me for being gay.

And I know that some of my family’s struggle in coming to terms with my sexuality had to do with language and cultural barriers, as well as religious intolerance, that can hinder acceptance in the Filipino community.

Higher infection rates

But our families should keep in mind that of the many issues that LGBT youth face (homelessness, bullying, high suicide rates, high drug and alcohol abuse rates), HIV/AIDS is becoming an even larger issue with increasing infection rates.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a resurgence of HIV/AIDS among young gay and bisexual men of color like myself, which is partly why on this World AIDS Day, HIV/AIDS awareness is so important for the Filipino community. To address HIV/AIDS in our community, we must continue to spread awareness and end the stigma associated with living with HIV/AIDS.

Luckily, due to decades of research and activism, the face of HIV/AIDS has changed significantly. People living with HIV are able to thrive as long as they have access to treatment (medications) and adhere to it. Although treatment is very effective, the sad reality is that nearly two-thirds of those who are eligible for treatment worldwide do not have access to it.

Everyone needs to understand that the fight against HIV/AIDS will not be over until we scale up access to treatment, reach zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths. After I graduate from college, I plan to pursue a Master’s in Social Work so that I can do my part to achieve these goals.

As I reflect, I realize I am only brave enough to write this and be open about my status because of the courage of all those affected with HIV who came before me. They paved the way for me. And this World AIDS Day, I hope you do your part and do 3 things: talk to friends and family about HIV/AIDS, get tested and encourage others to get tested, and support potentially groundbreaking research.

Do your bit

One very easy way to do the latter is to buy your gift cards this December via Gyft, a mobile app and website. Gyft is donating 100% of its profits in December to fund HIV vaccine research. On their site and app, you can buy gift cards for over 200 retailers, such as Target, Amazon, and Gap. Doing so will help raise money for potentially groundbreaking HIV vaccine research that could potentially put an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic once and for all.

I recently had the opportunity to be involved with this research team, known as Immunity Project and help in their effort to raise funds this holiday season. I hope you follow suit and that my story inspires you to take action this World AIDS Day.

Whether that means buying your holiday gift cards through Gift, talking to your friends and family about HIV/AIDS, or getting tested yourself, please do your part this holiday season.

Note : Michael Manacop is a senior at San Diego State University. This essay was published in Philippine News website/.

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