I really want to believe that stigma related to HIV is improving and the general public and institutions are beginning to be more accepting of us and less afraid. Every tine I get myself into this frame of mind, though, something happens to give me a reality check.
In 2001 I was hired for a position overseas and had a short period of time to sublet my apartment, put my belongings in storage and prepare to leave.
A couple of days before my departure date I got a call from the organization as they were wrapping up some last minute items. At the end of the conversation they apologized as they forgot to mention I would need to get an HIV test and send the results to them. Not knowing what to do I explained how I did not need a test as I was in fact already HI- positive. There was silence on the other end of the telephone after which they said- "Let me get back to you". About forty five minutes later I got a call back telling me the project had been cancelled and my services were no longer needed.
What they didn't know was I had a colleague who was already there working and the project was in fact very much active and in full motion. I made some calls and to make a long story short I was given a settlement after being threatened on the telephone to take it or else. I don't know what the "or else" was but the hostility intimidated me enough to accept the settlement, which I later regretted when I finally got advice about how I should have handled the situation. I did make many inquiries when the termination took place initially but got no replies or insufficient information to make a decision about what to do. I was completely overwhelmed, in shock and this was one of the few times I had disclosed my HIV status to anyone.
I sent my resume to a volunteer organization again in 2010 thinking that by this time institutions would be up to speed with the realities of HIV and things would be different. I am not sure why I felt ambivalent after they contacted me to come in but I booked and then cancelled at the last minute, four interviews with the person recruiting. It had nothing to do with HIV but more to do with my qualms in making a commitment.
After cancelling the fourth time I got a letter a few days later. I felt a bit of trepidation in opening it as I thought they were writing to express their displeasure with my indecisiveness which wasted their time. To my utter surprise and shock the letter stated the opposite as they explained how I was still on their roster, my skill set was still valuable and I could call back at any time if I changed my mind about volunteering with them.
Fast forward to 2014, I found myself contacting them again but this time I was certain I wanted to volunteer. I updated my resume as requested, and debated whether or not to mention too much about the work I had been doing in HIV education, activism and developing programs for people living with HIV since 2010. I decided to include all of my activities and sent the resume off to a person who sounded very enthusiastic on the telephone. They assured me that as soon as they got my updated resume they would be in touch. To my delight they even assured me I would not have to initiate a new application as they had my information on file from the previous time and it would be fast tracked to the appropriate person for follow up.
I waited for several weeks with no reply. I eventually got an email from the person I had spoken with claiming she had not received my updated resume. I replied explaining that I had in fact sent it several weeks prior. As I mentioned that was at the beginning of 2014 and I have not heard back from this organization since. I believe they read my updated resume and although I did not disclose, it wasn't difficult, based on the work I described to know I was in fact HIV positive. There was no confirmation of receipt of my resume and no invitation to come in for an interview this time around. Nothing but complete silence.
I will not mention these well known organizations. This is not the point of my story. My point is that stigma is very much alive and well and after all these years I keep getting reminders to be very cautious about disclosing my status. Regardless of what anyone claims, it does matter and I will be judged, the outcome of my plans will get changed and it will be out of my control.