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social sciences

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Stigma and AIDS

HIV and AIDS are a major stigmatizing factor around the world today. Despite the medical knowledge that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact, many uninfected individuals are afraid of being near, eating with, or simply touching HIV-positive individuals.

An additional factor is that, at least in advanced cases of AIDS, the disease leaves a visible physical presence on its sufferers, such as lesions. The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is not only about contagion, however.

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This stigma also carries with it a moral judgment that people living with HIV/AIDS "deserve" their fate because of the risky behavior in which they may have engaged. The moral judgment allows uninfected individuals to avoid feeling guilty about their treatment of people with HIV/AIDS.

Stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS are also extended to gay and bisexual men more generally, as society sees them as the agents of HIV transmission. Bisexual men in particular bear this stigma because of the belief that bisexual men acquire HIV by engaging in homosexual sex and then transmit it to their "innocent" female sex partners.

The presence of these stigmas may lead some gay and bisexual men to believe that getting infected with HIV will be inevitable, and therefore they should not bother trying to protect themselves. Efforts to avoid stigmatization may also lead people at high risk for contracting HIV to hide their behavior and avoid being tested for the virus, as well as leading people already infected to conceal their status from sex partners.

Ending Stigma

Most stigmatized groups work to change this fact of their lives. While it is difficult to be rid of stigma completely, groups can make changes in the degree to which they are stigmatized. Evidence of these changes in the stigmatization of glbtq people can be seen in the fact that homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder, their media presence is slowly expanding, more politicians and cultural figures are being truthful about their glbtq identities, and changes in the legal status of glbtq people have occurred.

Particularly important in ending stigma will be the Supreme Court's decriminalization of sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), because when was a crime, all sexually active lesbians and gay men were implicated as criminals, the ultimate bearers of stigma. However, legal and cultural changes do not remove the entire stigma that a group experiences. It takes generations for a stigma to completely disappear, as the stigmatized group slowly fades into the mass of normals that comprise society.

Meanwhile, groups and individuals must continue to work to lessen the stigma attached to glbtq identities. Most important, glbtq people must cope with stigma in daily life by maintaining a healthy self-esteem even in the face of social disapproval and disparagement.

Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur

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social sciences >> Overview:  Stereotypes

Stereotypes usually include inaccurate and negative assumptions about groups, thus contributing to racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.

social sciences >> Bowers v. Hardwick / Lawrence v. Texas

Two of the most significant Supreme Court decisions regarding constitutional liberty for glbtq people are Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

social sciences >> Suicide

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Goffman, Erving. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

Heatherton, Todd F. The Social Psychology of Stigma. New York: Guilford Press, 2000.

Herek, Gregory M. "AIDS and Stigma." American Behavioral Scientist 49.7 (1999): 1106-16.

_____, ed. Stigma and Sexual Orientation: Understanding Prejudice against Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1998.

Plummer, Kenneth. Sexual Stigma: An Interactionist Approach. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.


    Citation Information
    Author: Arthur, Mikaila Mariel Lemonik  
    Entry Title: Stigma  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 31, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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