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We can’t go back to the deadly HIV stigma of the 1980s | Owen Jones

By Owen Jones

11 Nov 2015 · 4 min read

he 1980s are back: not in the form of male pop stars wearing eyeliner, but headlines dripping with stigma. “Hollywood HIV panic,” booms the Sun newspaper. “A-list actor’s virus diagnosis rocks showbiz” and “Womanising star has string of ex-lovers”, it adds. Seeing the combination of “HIV” and “panic” in print is not something my generation is accustomed to; three decades ago, it was a tragic norm. For those who have spent much of their lives campaigning to overcome the stigma of this treatable illness, it is a bleak day. “Even with the advances made in HIV testing and treatment, this shows that unfounded prejudices still remain,” says the Terrence Higgins Trust. “It is attitudes like these that perpetuate HIV stigma.”

If a celebrity – or anybody else – has HIV, it really is none of our business. And portraying them as a walking biological weapon – carriers of a pestilence that makes them a threat to others – has terrible consequences. On the one hand such tabloid witch-hunting helps to make people living with HIV feel isolated, increasing depression and anxiety. But it also means fewer people choose to be tested.

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