Today is National HIV Testing Day. As two individuals living with HIV, we want to take this opportunity to share our thoughts with the Tucson community on the importance of getting tested to know your HIV status. When we hear about, or know of, someone getting tested for HIV/AIDS, what type of questions filter in our minds? Some begin to ask, What has he or she been doing? Or, Why are they getting tested anyway?
Don't get us wrong, everyone is entitled to ask questions. That's human nature. In this case, though, the best question to ask is: What business is it of mine?
Because, believe it or not, those other questions possess a damaging effect. They are contributing to the very stigma that frightens and stops people from getting an HIV test. It is because of stigma that people shy away from dealing with their own risk for HIV and self-care.
We believe that there is a greater force than stigma. That force is love. We also believe that anyone who stands up and gets tested possesses that love.
Through testing, they are showing a love for their body, their health and their lives. They are getting tested because they genuinely care about themselves. In doing so, these brave people are reclaiming the strength some would otherwise direct toward the stigma.
Those who are at risk of HIV/AIDS infection - all human beings - can help eliminate the stigma by being bold, stepping out of the box and practicing some self-care.
We, as persons of faith, should encourage our faith communities to stop being contributors to the stigma.
For too long, many faith communities have viewed sex as something that is unnatural and only acceptable for certain people, and then only for the purpose of procreation. The reality is people are having sex and it is damaging to institutionalize puritanical sexual mores that have not worked. The fact that sex is viewed as dirty and shameful contributes to low self-esteem in all areas of our lives. It is time for faith communities to embrace reality and move boldly into the realm of teaching our people to get tested.
This self-empowerment should be celebrated, rather than questioned. There is absolutely no shame in getting tested; the shame comes from those who decide to inflict and impose the stigma. Getting tested for HIV is not a shameful thing to do, and having HIV/AIDS is not a shameful thing to have.
HIV/AIDS is just a disease. Those who get tested for HIV/AIDS are just getting tested. Nothing more, nothing less. It is that simple. If you are one of those people asking, "Should I get tested?" we encourage you to do so. This is a private matter between you and your doctor. You are boldly getting the answer to a significant question concerning you and your health.
Get tested for your peace of mind. Please don't allow any shame, fear or labeling to stop you. Remember, getting tested is a form of loving one's self - as is knowing your HIV status, as is managing your HIV infection to stay healthy and live well.
Confidential HIV testing is available for no cost or low cost at a variety of locations in Southern Arizona. Contact the Pima County Health Department at 791-7676 to find out where you can get tested.
As members of the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN), we invite faith communities to join us in an informed, sensitive and compassionate response to those affected by HIV/AIDS. Through education and support, we - as individuals and faith communities - work to build bridges, reduce stigma and sustain hope.
The Rev. Chewee Hughley, who is pastor of Church of Our Faith Fellowship, and Enrique Franco are volunteers with the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network. Go to www.tihan.org for more information and e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org