The dos and don’ts to creating a safer space for people living with HIV
Sharing a positive HIV diagnosis takes incredible courage. People living with HIV need an understanding and supportive space to share their experiences. How can we respond and be better allies?
Follow this list of dos and don’ts to create a safer space for people living with HIV.
DO practice empathy
A friend or loved one just told you they are HIV positive.
Put yourself in their shoes. Sharing your HIV status is a deeply personal part of someone’s life. How would you feel if you got this news? How would you feel disclosing it to your close friends?
Instead of saying: “I’m so sorry that happened to you, I can’t believe it.”
Try: “I’m grateful to you for sharing this with me – how are you feeling?”
DO ask how you can support
Think of the times you’ve been down with a cold. Your friends or family probably brought you soup, fruit or medicine without you having to ask.
Instead of saying: “Let me know if you need anything.”
Try: “I want to help. How can I support you?”
DO listen and learn
Everyone deals with their diagnosis differently. While some may want to express their frustration, others may not want to discuss it at all. Follow their lead and be prepared to support them when the time comes.
Instead of asking your loved one uncomfortable questions about their diagnosis, try connecting with them in ways you did before they told you their status. Show them you see them as a person.
DON’T use words like clean or dirty
Language matters when talking about HIV. Words like “clean” or “dirty” when referring to HIV status further the stigma around it. When asking someone about their HIV status:
Instead of: “Are you clean?”
Try: “When was your last HIV test? Do you know your status?”
DON’T ask how they got it
If they don’t choose to share how they contracted HIV with you, it is best not to ask. The way they got HIV is their business only. They might not know, or it may be linked to a traumatic event and bring up painful memories.
Instead of saying, “How did it happen? Do you know who gave it to you?”
Try: Listening to them and learning more about transmission methods.
Now that you understand the dos and don’ts, acknowledge that someone living with HIV is no different from anyone else. They’re still the same person you knew before you knew their status, so be open-minded, positive and supportive.
To learn more, see our page for blogs on the basics of HIV and other helpful topics.
Remember, their HIV status doesn’t define them. Just like any chronic illness, it’s something to manage, not a reflection of a person.
Becoming an ally can help HIV-positive people get into care and thrive with HIV.