Since the opening of Tyler Perry’s new film, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, my in-box has been flooded with concerns about the film’s message linking adultery and HIV. After seeing the film, I completely understand those concerns, so let me join in the outcry. However, the symbolic use of HIV as a punishment for immoral behavior is not a new phenomenon. It’s only now that we are beginning to realize the backward effects it has on society by doing nothing more than perpetuate harmful stigmas and discrimination.
The idea that an HIV-positive person deserves their diagnosis has been used in television and film countless times. Films such as For Colored Girls and Kids and television shows such as Law & Order: SVU all have used HIV as a punishment mechanism or as a consequence of bad behavior.
This “scaring” people into staying negative is not a concept limited to the entertainment industry. Growing up, I remember being taught in church and school that only deviants got HIV and, in turn, AIDS was a moral consequence of sin. The only way to remain “pure” and stay negative was to abstain from sex altogether. This ignorant gospel, added to the fact that I was gay, only intensified my fear of HIV and getting tested. Just like it was yesterday, I can remember my youth minister saying, “Homosexual sex leads to AIDS.”
So is it really that difficult to understand why people with HIV isolate themselves and people who don’t know their status fear taking an HIV test?
Once I found out I was positive, my eyes were opened to the number of HIV organizations using scare tactics as a method of prevention, just like my childhood church in Texas. Public health campaigns like “HIV — Not Fabulous” (from AIDS Healthcare Foundation) or “It’s Never Just HIV” (by New York City’s Department of Health) only help continue the harmful strategy of using HIV-positive individuals as nothing more than examples of why one should wear a condom. Frankly, this kind of messaging disgusts me. This is where perceptions come from. This is where stigma starts.
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