March 1st Is Zero Discrimination Day: What’s Your Tolerance Level?

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Zero Discrimination Day is a chance to celebrate diversity and to reject discrimination. By joining our voices together, we can be part of a resounding call for compassion, tolerance and peace. — UNAIDS

Committing to making our word free of stigma and discrimination is not an option, IT’S A DUTY. — MICHEL SIDIBÉ, UNAIDS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

This being Zero Discrimination Day, a day for increased tolerance and compassion, I wanted to write about our increasing levels of tolerance of various aspects of society today. We are increasing aware of, and more tolerant of the rights of people who may not fit the mold of what we consider to be “normal” and those who do not conform to what we personally believe to be the “normal behavior” expected by society. While we may not completely agree with the sexual orientation, occupations/livelihoods, and religious and cultural beliefs of others we mingle with, we need to be able to appreciate that we are all different and that these individual differences make up today’s world.

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Some marginalized groups in society have had to come out and stand up for their rights to be treated well and not be discriminated against. Communities such as the LGBT community are making great progress in getting more recognition of their rights and needs. This is great because we are starting to understand how it feels like to live in their world and appreciate the different aspects of their lives from ours.

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More HIV-positive persons are also coming out publicly about their illnesses and as they do so, we are starting to appreciate the fact that HIV infection is closer to us than we may want to acknowledge. That family member, coworker, church member, neighbor, and celebrity we know is HIV-positive? Wow, who would have known until they said something, right? After all they look like just the rest of us, right?

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Through the sharing of these stories, we are getting more tolerant of HIV-positive persons. However globally, HIV stigma is still a pandemic in and of itself adding onto the difficulty of living with the illness for an infected person and his/her family members. Isn’t it amazing how we can be friends for years with a person or love him/her as a family member until we find out he/she is HIV-positive? As soon as we find out, we start treating him/her differently, but really what has changed? Isn’t he/she still the same person we loved and cared about until the word HIV-positive was associated with him/her?

As part of commemorating Zero Discrimination Day, I dare ask, do we have a right to judge anyone because he/she is HIV-positive? Do we really know how it is to live a day as a HIV-positive person? What makes us so intolerant and insensitive that we can openly (or behind his/her back) mock a sick person because of his/her illness? Surely we were not there when he/she became infected to know how the infection was acquired? Okay, sometimes we know that he/she participated in behaviors that made him/her become infected, but we cannot go back and change the fact that he/she is infected, will stigmatizing him/her help improve the situation? How about those children infected at birth through no fault of their own who are now today’s adults, seeking love and understanding from us, so they can deal with the cards dealt them and move on with their lives? Okay now take out the him/her in the equation and add the name of the person you love most and just found out that he/she is HIV-positive, does he/she need your support?

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Today on Zero Discrimination Day and going forth, I challenge each of us to do some deep soul searching and really try to understand what it is inside of us, that makes us to look upon others with disdain, as less than humans, as persons not worthy of our time who should be ignored, stigmatized, discriminated against, all because they are HIV-positive! I challenge each of us to follow the theme of the day and “Open Up and Reach Out” to at least one HIV-positive person. We may be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised to find we are the only persons who have done so. When you do reach out, please check your preset views about the person or the illness at the door, and really try to know him/her. You will find that he/she is no different from the rest of us, he/she just happens to have a virus in his/her body called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Please read my other posts related to HIV stigma:

HIV Advocacy and Public Disclosure: Wise or Not For HIV-Positive Parents?

HIV Disclosure In The Classroom? Teachers Role In Reducing HIV Stigma

HIV Stigma: Are Your Patients “Covered In It”?

This post was first made on my blog www.hivdisclsouretochildren.org.

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