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Health

How Jonathan Van Ness Announcing He's HIV-Positive Is a Big Step Against Global Stigma

Why Global Citizens Should Care
There are approximately 37 million people around the world who are living with HIV. But stigma continues to perpetuate shame and prevent people from feeling able to access healthcare and treatment — while stopping people from understanding the truth: that if somebody on HIV is on the right treatment, you cannot pass on the virus. Join the movement and take action now to fight for Global Goal 3 on good health to end the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

"You’re strong, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you got this."

It feels apt to open a piece on Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness with a quote about resilence from the man himself. He’s a pop culture phenomenon who epitomises optimism as a form of protest, a political activist who speaks truth, fabulously, to power — and now, an out-and-proud "member of the beautiful HIV positive community."

Van Ness, who identifies as gender nonbinary but prefers he/him pronouns, writes about his diagnosis in his new book Over The Top, first reported from a candid interview in a Manhattan cafe with the New York Times.

"I've had nightmares every night for the past three months because I'm scared to be this vulnerable with people,” he told the newspaper. 

But he decided to go public about it to fight a prevailing global stigma that continues to shame people into keeping their HIV status a secret.

The memoir shares a side of Van Ness he’s previously kept to himself. He writes about being sexually assaulted as a young child by a boy in church, triggering a string of sexual affairs with much older men as a teenager. It led to an addiction to sex and drugs that culminated in his HIV diagnosis, tested at Planned Parenthood after fainting while working in a hair salon aged 25.

“That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” he wrote in the book.

It’s taken years for the 33-year-old to feel ready to share his diagnosis with the world.

“When Queer Eye came out, it was really difficult because I was like, ‘do I want to talk about my status?’” he told the New York Times. “And then I was like, ‘the Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatisation of the LGBT community thrive around me… I do feel the need to talk about this.’”

“These are all difficult subjects to talk about on a makeover show about hair and makeup,” he added. “That doesn’t mean Queer Eye is less valid, but I want people to realise you’re never too broken to be fixed.”

HIV — or Human Immunodeficiency Virus — weakens the immune system, and can lead to AIDS, a late stage of the disease where the immune system is so severely damaged that you’re vulnerable to other illnesses or infections, according to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

However, if you’re on the right treatment, you cannot pass HIV on. 

The NHS highlights that it’s also impossible to catch the virus through sweat, urine, or saliva. But it can be transmitted through blood or semen — which is why the most common way of getting HIV is through sex without a condom.

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There are approximately 37 million people around the world who are living with HIV. However, many still go untreated. Although there is not yet a human cure, there have recently been successful tests on mice with gene-editing technology, described by scientists as the “cusp of a scientific revolution.”

Van Ness’ announcement came a week after Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas — the first rugby union player to publicly come out as gay a decade ago — also shared his HIV diagnosis in an emotional video. And just like Thomas, support for his bravery came from all over the world.