Saving face can’t make you safe.

Asian + Pacific Islander LogoThis is the message that The Banyan Tree Project aims to get across to the entire nation on National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness day, May 19th.

Nearly two out of every three Asian Americans have never been tested for HIV. This devastating statistic is due in large part to the fact that there is a lot of stigma surround HIV and AIDS in the Asian & Pacific Islander community. The Banyan Tree Project challenges people to address their own stigma. “If a friend says ‘stay away from people with HIV,’ will you save face or will you talk about it?”

In the Asian American community, HIV-related stigma is so prevalent that people avoid talking about sex or HIV entirely or are discriminated against. Fear, ignorance, stereotypes, and avoiding the truth cause many Asians and Pacific Islanders living with HIV to be disowned by their families, fired from jobs and alienated from their community.

What can be surprising is that doctors or health care professionals may even discourage testing. One woman, Naina, says that she “knew that I had been in a few risky sexual situations, so I wanted to get an HIV test.” When she consulted her doctor, he said that “as an Asian woman, [she] wasn’t really at risk. Don’t worry about it.” She attempted to get tested three more times until she eventually was able to get tested in a different country. She found out that she was HIV-positive.

The Banyan Tree Project’s vision is shared with people around the world—to build a healthy community free of stigma where people affected by, at risk for, and living with HIV or AIDS feel safe, respected, and accepted. Fighting HIV stigma is important because stigma not only hurts yourself, but it also hurts people living with HIV and it hurts your community.

Ending HIV stigma is possible, but not without your help. The Bayan Tree Project recommends starting out by understanding the truth, listening with compassion and empathy, and speaking out.

1 ) It’s important to talk about HIV because there is strength in numbers and understanding. Share your story and listen to others.

2) Be supportive and avoid ostracizing an individual because of HIV.

3) Know yourself. Get tested. Know your status. Give yourself the power to make decisions about how to take care of yourself.

This day of observance acknowledges the importance about getting the right conversations started and gaining more knowledge about HIV stigma to prevent and help those that are living with or are affected with HIV. Put a stop to the silence; put a stop to the stigma.

Learn more at http://banyantreeproject.org/ on how you can get involved in your community.