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Eye Opening Survey Shows More than 1 in 4 Millennials Avoided Hugging or Talking to People Living with HIV

The kids, it seems, are not alright. At least, that looks to be the main takeaway from a recent study conducted by the Prevention Access Campaign and Merck showing an unnerving level of HIV stigma and disinformation among young Americans. The study—which is part of Owning HIV: Young Adults and the Fight Ahead, a larger effort to address youth attitudes around HIV—found that 28% of HIV-negative Millennials (23- to 36-year-olds) have avoided hugging, talking to, or being friends with someone with HIV, and that 30% would prefer to avoid any social interaction with someone living with HIV.

It is certainly disappointing that this survey found such high levels of HIV stigma among younger Americans, but it is not necessarily shocking. Fear and ignorance are not confined to any given generation, and the fact that 23% of Millennials and 41% of Generation Z (18- to 22-year-olds) respondents said they were either not at all informed or only somewhat informed about HIV speaks volumes as to where that stigma comes from.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that younger generations will be inherently more tolerant and accepting than those that came before them. As the first waves of HIV advocates grow older, it is only natural for them to think that the profound experiences that shaped their worldviews will be felt just as acutely by the youth that follow us. However, that transfer of understanding only takes place if the older generations actively convey to their children, students, and mentees the importance of such events and the knowledge attendant to them.  The lessons that were gleaned from the height of the HIV epidemic in the 80s and 90s, and the most recent biomedical advances concerning HIV, can only impact youth if they are informed of them.

Unfortunately, it does not seem as if the American educational system is all too keen on ensuring that young people in this country know about HIV. Thus, as it has so often been over the course of the HIV epidemic in the US, it falls to us as HIV advocates to do the legwork and make sure that Millennials and members of Gen Z know the basic facts about HIV, a task that is impossible unless we work with, respect, and give agency to young HIV advocates among us—particularly young HIV advocates of color and transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender nonbinary HIV advocates. After all, it’s much harder for a Millennial to respond to someone spreading the message of Undetectable = Untransmittable with an “OK, Boomer” if the person talking to them is in their 20s.

Unless HIV stigma among youth is addressed in a significant way, the goal of ending of the HIV epidemic in the United States will remain out of reach. It should be unacceptable that, in 2019, 90% of young adults may avoid sharing their status due to the fear of losing friends or family, or experiencing mental, physical or emotional abuse. We can and we must do better.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, December 06, 2019

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