We can put an end to serophobia

Serophobia is a manifestation of fear and aversion by certain people, towards people living with HIV.
Like homophobia, it manifests itself through acts of exclusion or discrimination, whether implicit or explicit.

Pointing out a guy in a bar and telling friends that he’s HIV positive

A person’s HIV status is personal and confidential. HIV positive people are still subjected to discrimination and rejection. Disclosing a person’s HIV positive status can have serious consequences; they could lose their job, be refused a new job, or be denied access to housing. That’s why it’s important to respect the confidentiality of this information, and not spread rumours.

Writing the sentence “seeking a clean, healthy guy” on your online profile

Using this type of wording is judgemental, and implies that HIV positive people are dirty and unhealthy. It’s important to be aware of the negative connotations words can carry. A non-discriminatory formulation would simply be “seeking an HIV negative guy”. What’s more, this isn’t an effective strategy for prevention, since in Canada, one HIV positive person in three doesn’t know that they are HIV positive.
For more information on safe sex and risk reduction practices, visit our site Readyforaction.org

Having preconceived ideas about HIV positive people

Assuming that guys who go to saunas or backrooms are HIV positive. Saying that HIV positive people were “asking for it” or that contracting HIV was “their own fault”. 

As gay men, we are stereotyped in all kinds of ways. Why would we want to repeat this same behaviour within our own community?  Every HIV positive person has a different life story. In our community, one man in ten is living with HIV. Let’s avoid the stereotyping and judgement that leads to HIV positive people being stigmatized and segregated.

Insulting or ridiculing someone who’s HIV positive

When it comes to sex, disclosing your HIV status isn’t easy. HIV positive guys are often rejected, sometimes even insulted or ridiculed. To find out the HIV status of a partner, all you need to do is ask him. It’s a gesture that shows you’re open to talking about it. The important thing is to respect the person disclosing their HIV positive status, even if you don’t want to fool around with him. There are ways to say it that aren’t hurtful.

Fighting HIV also means fighting against the discrimination and stigmatization of HIV positive people. Some people negatively judge HIV positive people, others don’t even realize that their behaviour is HIV phobic. We need to be aware of the different ways that serophobia manifests itself and of the little gestures that can make all the difference. Let’s all help establish an environment where talking about HIV is 100% safe.

 

What is serophobia?

Serophobia manifests itself in different ways:

Disclosing a person’s HIV status (outing them), or speculating about someone’s HIV status…Holding discriminatory ideas about HIV positive people… Using words that imply judgement of HIV positive people…is serophobia.

Serophobia reinforces the segregation of HIV positive people, and creates division among our community. It forces HIV positive people “into the closet”, and keeps them there. We have fought for decades against homophobia, and never looked back. Let’s be aware of the consequences of our actions and beliefs, and work to contribute to a community where respect trumps discrimination and exclusion.

Talking about HIV is 100% safe

Some people believe that HIV positive guys should disclose their status, no matter what – as if it was owed to them. Even though some guys talk openly about their HIV positive status, others prefer to pick and choose who they will tell. It’s a personal choice.

At the beginning of a relationship, an HIV positive man may choose not to disclose his status at the first encounter, in order to feel things out and see if anything serious develops. In a sense, it makes sense – who likes to reveal the details of their personal life on a first date?

When it comes to sex, disclosing your HIV status isn’t easy. HIV positive guys are often rejected, sometimes even insulted or ridiculed. To find out the HIV status of a partner, all you need to do is ask him. It’s a gesture that shows you’re open to talking about it. The important thing is to respect the person disclosing their HIV positive status, even if you don’t want to fool around with him. There are ways to say it that aren’t hurtful.

Waiting for an HIV positive guy to disclose his status is not a great prevention strategy. A person can be HIV positive without knowing it. It’s estimated that one HIV positive gay man in four doesn’t know he’s infected.

 In any case, the risk level has nothing to do with the guy or the establishments he frequents. Rather, certain sexual practices increase the risk of transmission. Partners with different HIV statuses (one positive and one negative) can adapt their sexual practices to be safe, but still pleasurable. For more information on safer sex, visit Readyforaction.org

 Like it or not, HIV is an unavoidable reality for the gay community. Over the course of our lives, HIV positive people will be our friends, our boyfriends, our lovers – even that guy we met last night. Let’s all help establish a peaceful environment where it’s easy to talk without holding back or fearing exclusion.

What can I do?

The recipe for fighting serophobia is simple:

be empathetic, respectful, and consider the effect of your words and actions. Remind yourself that talking about HIV is 100% safe. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, learn what they’re going through, and understand their situation. Living with HIV isn’t always easy. serophobia leads to increased isolation of HIV positive people, and segregation within our community. Imagine yourself as a person living with HIV. How would you want to be treated? Ask yourself the question: if I was HIV positive, what would my life be like? How would I want people to react? Who would I tell?

Respect people’s private lives

A person’s HIV status is personal and confidential, and it can be hard to talk about since people who are HIV positive are still subjected to discrimination and rejection. Be respectful and understanding when a guy tells you his status. After all, in today’s society, it’s a serious act of trust.

Words can hurt more than actions

Choosing a formulation like “seeking a clean, healthy guy” implies judgement, and suggests that HIV positive guys are dirty and unhealthy. Be careful of the words you use and the messages they can send. There is always a way to express what you want to say without hurting or discriminating against someone who’s HIV positive.

 

These very simple gestures can make all the difference in the lives of HIV positive guys, and for our community. There’s no downside to being Poz Friendly. So, don’t hesitate to broach the subject with your friends, or to join our efforts to establish a healthy environment where it’s easy and constructive to talk about HIV. Don’t let HIV phobic comments slide. If you’re with a group and one of your friends “outs” an HIV positive guy, or uses words that are hurtful or without empathy, remind him of what you know, and invite him to visit this site.

The recipe is so simple. Be ready to listen, talk to, and understand the other person. These actions will help establish an environment where HIV positive people feel comfortable disclosing their status.

 For more information or to speak to a councillor, don’t hesitate to contact your local HIV organization, as listed in the resource section of this site.

 

 

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Resources

HIV community organizations
in Montreal

A.C.C.M.
www.accmontreal.org
Guidance – Support – Reference – Day centre – Prevention – Bilingual services

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COALITION SIDA DES SOURDS DU QUÉBEC
www.cssq.org
Information – Support through anonymous testing – Support groups – Psychosocial services – Prevention and education

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G.A.P. – V.I.E.S.
www.gapvies.ca
Haitian and African communities: Prevention – Guidance – Psychosocial support – Telephone helpline

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MAISON PLEIN CŒUR
www.maisonpleincoeur.org
Day centre – Mutual aid – Home maintenance – Driving services – Massotherapy – Lodging – Volunteer services

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Portail VIH/sida du Québec
www.pvsq.org
Support – Information on HIV and available treatments

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RÉZO
www.rezosante.org
Primary and secondary prevention – Education – Intervention – Sexual and global health

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HIV community organizations
outside Montreal

BRISS – Côte-Nord
www.ascn.qc.ca
Education – Prevention – support – Help for people living with HIV and their loved ones

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BLITS – Centre-du-Québec
www.blits.ca
Prevention – support – Intervention

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B.R.A.S. – OUTAOUAIS
www.lebras.qc.ca
Prevention – support – Intervention

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CENTRE DES R.O.S.É.S. – Abitibi-Témiscamingue
www.centredesroses.org
Prevention – Support and a listening ear for people living with HIV/AIDS and their friends and family

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CENTRE SIDA AMITIÉ – Laurentides
csa1@qc.aira.com
Support – Education – Prevention – Info-AIDS hotline

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ÉMISS-ERE – Montérégie
www.emiss-ere.ca
Support – Prevention

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L’A.R.C.H.E. de l’Estrie
www.archedelestrie.org
Prevention – Health promotion – Education

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I.R.I.S. – ESTRIE
www.iris-estrie.com
Prevention – Health promotion – Education

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Le Néo – Lanaudière
www.le-neo.com
Intervention – Education – Prevention – Support

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M.A.IN.S. – BAS-SAINT-LAURENT
www.mainsbsl.qc.ca
Intervention – Education – Prevention – Support

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M.I.E.L.S. – QUÉBEC
www.miels.org
Prevention – Support – Intervention – Housing

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M.I.E.N.S. – Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean
www.lemiens.com
Prévention – Soutien – Intervention – Hébergement

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SIDACTION Mauricie
www.sidactionmauricie.ca
Prevention – Support – Intervention

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SIDA-VIE LAVAL
www.sidavielaval.ca
Education – Prevention – Guidance – Support and a listing ear – Volunteer services

 

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About the campaign

The STOP SEROPHOBIA campaign was developed by the comité Hommes gais et HARSAH de la Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA) in collaboration with Marketel. 

Le comité Hommes gais et HARSAH brings together front line intervention workers from ACCM, BLITS, BRAS-Outaouais, Maison Plein Cœur, MIELS-Québec et Sidaction Mauricie.  We’d like to thank our partners, Veille Électronique and Gay411 for their collaboration in executing the campaign.

This campaign, launched in 2009, is the culmination of a series of discussions on the various manifestations of serophobia in Quebec’s gay community. 

Whether it’s in bars, saunas, or Internet chat rooms, many HIV positive gay men or MSM report experiencing discrimination, rejection and exclusion. Faced with this reality, the members of the committee decided to develop a targeted campaign with a strong message, in order to create an environment of solidarity, with no place for discrimination or exclusion.

The objective of the campaign is to create awareness among gay men and MSM about the implicit and explicit ways that serophobia can manifest itself, and make them aware of the men adverse effects of their words and actions. There are different ways to exclude people living with HIV, and therefore different ways of being HIV phobic.

Do you have comments, thoughts, or would like to order some campaign materials? Contact commentaires@stopserophobie.org

COCQ-SIDA
brings together Quebec community organizations involved in the fight against HIV/ AIDS to promote and support coordinated action. To do this it sparks, supports, and strengthens community action in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the territory of Québec. The organization fosters solidarity, and unifies the approach, actions and resources needed to respond to the challenges faced by people living with HIV as well as communities at risk of being infected with HIV.