South MS woman living with HIV talks about living with stigma - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

South MS woman living with HIV talks about living with stigma

South Mississippi HIV/AIDS advocates said they would like to see an end to the stigma. (Photo source: WLOX) South Mississippi HIV/AIDS advocates said they would like to see an end to the stigma. (Photo source: WLOX)
SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) -

Between his prominent acting roles and his very public meltdowns, Charlie Sheen is one of Hollywood's most recognizable faces. Sheen appeared on national television Tuesday morning announcing he is HIV positive. 

Sheen said he was diagnosed with HIV about four years ago and his announcement was made to end a smear campaign and extortion efforts. His plan now is to help destigmatize the virus.

HIV/AIDS advocates here in South Mississippi said they would like to see an end to the stigma. WLOX spoke to Sheila who didn't want to be shown on camera, but told us how her life changed after being diagnosed with the virus 12 years ago. 

"Some people start backing away from you who are your friends and relatives. They think if they touch you, eat behind you or sit next to you, they'll catch it. They're not educated,” said Sheila." 

After years of trying to educate the public, the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force has noticed a large shift in attitude towards complacency about HIV testing and prevention. That's why officials were glad Charlie Sheen has gone public about his HIV status. 

"What he's done in coming out as HIV positive is he has put HIV on the cover of magazines, on the front page of newspapers and all the news outlets. So, that is bringing attention back to AIDS and HIV and this is a prime opportunity for us to come back in with messaging to say it's still here. It's still an issue. Someone with power, money and a high profile like Charlie Sheen is HIV positive and has been for years. And it could happen to anyone," said Brian Bourne, Executive Director

Advocates said this is also an opportunity to get people talking about the impact of disclosure laws. 

"And they see these laws as just another form of stigma. That risk that the partner that you disclose to going out into the community and telling everyone your status is real. Because when the community knows, you are immediately labeled, even today. It's one of the reasons we have such a difficult time finding a client that is willing to talk on camera,” said Bourne.

It's also one of the reasons people like Sheila hope one day HIV will no longer carry a stigma. She said she is glad Sheen spoke out. 

"You have people who are going to be judgmental anyway. But at least he's letting people know 'I'm a star, and it happened to me.' So if it can happen to him, it can happen to you. So, I need you to get tested and get educated," said Sheila.

The South Mississippi Aids Task Force will hold a Bridge For Life walk Dec. 5th on the Biloxi Bridge. The walk will start at 8 a.m. at Fort Maurepas in Ocean Springs. 

Individuals can register on site between 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. or visit the registration website.

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