The first World AIDS Day took place on December 1st, 1988, to bring awareness to the rampant epidemic of HIV. Decades later, it is now known as the longest-running disease initiative.
As we continue the yearly tradition to reflect on the often-ignored epidemic that is HIV/AIDS on December 1st, we must pay attention to what’s transpired since the epidemic was at its height.
For one, since AIDS/HIV came about, there have been more than 36 million deaths from AIDs-related illnesses worldwide, including 700,000 people from the United States. But the narrative is changing.
Before the world gained some education on the disease, AIDS was known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Disease.) Thus, further demonizing members of the LGBTQIA+ community more so than they already were. But as doctors and the world learned more, it has been found that this disease doesn’t discriminate and will infect anyone who has been exposed to it — which is why being safe is so important.
And as another World AIDS Day is upon us, we must remain focused on honoring those who have passed too soon and letting the world know that life doesn’t end if an AIDS/HIV diagnosis is given — it is now possible more so than ever.
Eddie Orozco is a testament to this.
A diagnosis that marks the path of life
Orozco is an HIV advocate living in South Florida. Orozco immigrated from Colombia in 1980 and was diagnosed with HIV shortly after — a time where people had a skewed perception of what the illness meant. Thankfully, he has had support throughout his journey with HIV. He recalls a former partner who supported him despite him being negative.
“Despite me being positive and him being negative, this person actually was an influential part of my life,” Orozco told BELatina News when discussing his experience with HIV as a queer Latino.
“And that’s the reason why I’m here and doing the work that I’m doing in the community.”
Orozco uses these life experiences as fuel to help newly diagnosed people and who might benefit from his guidance.
Being a member of the LGBTQIA+ and Latinx community, Orozco’s advocacy is delicate and tailored to those from these historically marginalized communities. Orozco works at Pride Lines, an LGBTQIA+ youth service organization where his past experiences and passion for equity allow him to combat the unnecessary stigma around AIDS/HIV while empowering newly diagnosed people.
His work goes beyond sharing his lived experiences with HIV with community members; he is also working to share his story at a larger scale to destigmatize the jaded narrative around HIV/AIDS around the world, including in the Latinx community.
Orozco, for instance, will now be featured in “HIV in View,” a global anti-stigma photography collaboration between Shutterstock and ViiV Healthcare (in a photo library similar to Getty images).
The purpose of the collaboration is to provide a collection of photos that uplift real people living with HIV, which, in turn, will help change the world’s perception of the stigma around AIDS/HIV.
He feels that this collaboration gives him, as he stated, “another opportunity where I can still use my voice to educate the community, especially my Latino community.”
Though there’s more conversation around AIDS/HIV and people living with a positive status aren’t vilified as much anymore, there’s still plenty of work.
When asked if he felt that the Latinx community is getting better at understanding, he said, “slightly, not 100 percent, but it looks like we are getting there.”
Orozco believes that the stigma will be minimalized through education and giving our families the right resources.
“To educate our family, they need to learn all the basics about HIV and AIDS — how it’s transmitted and how it’s not — and how they can be more sensitive to somebody who is HIV positive.”
“And not to stigmatize them because it will make that person feel really bad if they do.”
Before our conversation ended, Eddie Orozco told BELatina that he hopes that his advocacy will encourage other Latinos to join him.
“I’m a person who enjoys the work that I do in being in the community, and I want there to be more Latinos like me to use their voices so that we can again create conversations and break the stigma.”
As for now, we all have to do our part to try to erase the hurtful narrative around AIDS/HIV. We need to remind people that anyone living with a positive status is still human and to honor the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In other words: respect.