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HIV is a complex and nuanced issue, especially for young people living with HIV, who experience many misconceptions about their lives. Below are a few tips for accurate, sensitive reporting on young people and HIV.
Do’s and Don’ts
DON’T use “infection language.” Referring to “HIV infections,” a person as “HIV-infected” or saying they could “infect another person” is highly stigmatizing to people living with HIV. Alternatives include saying “HIV cases,” “living with HIV,” and “acquire/transmit” HIV.
DO use “person first” language, as in “Jae is a young person living with HIV.”
DO share your pronouns with interview subjects and be certain of their pronouns. Easy to do and helps ensure your piece is correct.
DON’T stigmatize the sex lives of people living with HIV. Sex is a normal and natural part of human life, and each of us holds responsibility for taking care of our own health. Young people living with HIV shouldn’t be treated as dangerous or irresponsible for having active sex lives.
DON’T assume HIV is a tragedy in someone’s life. It is a part of a person’s life, and each individual feels differently about it. Sob stories/”tragedy porn” do not reflect the view all people living with HIV take of their experiences.
DO acknowledge young people living with HIV as experts on their own lives. Many HIV activists share their stories because they want to effect change. Value their vision and goals as much as their intimate personal details.
DON’T assume statistics tell the whole story. HIV surveillance statistics are typically framed in terms of transmission rates and “risk behaviors.” But many other factors, including income, race, and access to education, contribute to someone’s chances of acquiring HIV, when/if they get tested, and the quality of care they receive if living with HIV.
- For instance, a young person of color has a higher likelihood of acquiring HIV even with the same or fewer “risk behaviors” as a young white person, because of the higher rates of HIV in communities of color.
DON’T create a blaming narrative around HIV, by focusing on “mistakes” the person made or “risks” they took.
DO examine the cultural factors that impacted their diagnosis. Where did they experience stigma? Did they have access to resources? What is their life like now compared to before they received their diagnosis?
DO reach out to the Advocates for Youth media team with any questions or if you are interested in speaking to young people living with HIV about their activism and their lives.