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Is there Pride in being HIV Positive?

(NOTE: When I created this post/video in 2012, I had no idea I would be honored as one of the Grand Marshals of the 2013 Atlanta Gay Pride Celebration (Oct 12-13). It makes the concept of Poz Pride even more interesting to me. If you would like to join my contingent for the parade, visit my Facebook event page. All are welcome!)

During my new video blog episode, below, someone asks me incredulously if I would actually march down the street telling people I was HIV positive.

Well, actually, I would. And have. Many Gay Pride parades ago, in 1994, I marched while wearing a t-shirt that said “NO ONE KNOWS I’M HIV POSITIVE.” This was prior to the advent of protease inhibitors, when many were still dying. The shirt felt like an enormous “screw you” to the virus, to the body count, and to anyone who had a problem with my status.

But I have a peculiar lack of shame, or if you will, I’m shameless. And I am very, very fortunate that I can exercise this trait with a minimum of consequences. It’s not something that many people with HIV are able to do. Why? Beyond their personal reticence, there is still an appalling lack of empathy (and education) within families, workplaces, and social networks. The issue of HIV criminalization and the increased prosecutions of people for not disclosing their status only increases the risks of sharing your status.

It may be instructive to point out that, unlike cancer or diabetes, people with HIV are stigmatized, rejected and even prosecuted for their status — and not a small amount of social stigma comes from within our community (HIV is the only viral condition for which you can be prosecuted for not disclosing, even though others, such as Hep C, have become deadlier). I believe one antidote to stigma is pride, and by taking pride in our HIV status we can foster a feeling of responsibility and openness — to seek medical care, to disclose to our partners, to serve as models for those who are too afraid of HIV to even get tested.

During the Atlanta Pride parade and festival, I tried to reconcile my own “HIV OUT” status with those who can’t speak for themselves, and I investigated a simple question: if HIV is nothing to be ashamed of, can it be something to be proud of?

Thanks for watching, and please be well.



There’s one thing that Volttage (the new online dating site for HIV positive gay men) will never lack: artwork of hot naked men. Not when it has been created in part by HIV hottie and physique model Jack Mackenroth. If you’re gay and poz and single, you might appreciate a dating site in which the maddening question “are you clean?” will never be asked. This kind of selective coupling is known as serosorting (check out the video tour of an HIV positive sex club I did last year), and it can be helpful to both peace of mind and HIV infection risk. But of course, love always enjoys complicating things, so save some room in that heart of yours, just in case the man of your dreams is HIV negative!




  1. Lynda M O October 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I had not heard of Volttage prior to reading about it just now. What a great idea.

  2. Matt November 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    LOVE definitely does complicate everything!

  3. Barb November 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I think the question of internal or self stigma is huge. As an HIV+ woman, living with this disease for 20 years, I know the shame we heap on ourselves can often be the worst.
    I am working on a statewide anti stigma campaign called NO in CO for World AIDS Day. It specifically targets the general population but fighting stima in any form and any population is POWER.

  4. Janice Cadwell November 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    As a straight negative supporter for full equality NOW and working for a cure for HIV/AIDS, I have met the most courageous, compassionate and compelling people who are positive. You are on the front lines of fighting stigma, ignorance and fear. I am humbled by you. Nobody can seriously argue that apathy is okay in the face of these challenges. Never forget how valuable you are to all of us in this world.

  5. Jeff Coulter November 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    It’s a complicated question. Am I “proud” of being HIV+. Probably not. But I am proud of the fact that I refuse to be stigmatized because of my status. For me, Eleanor Roosevelt hit the nail on the head when she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I choose not to feel inferior because I am HIV+, and when I read those ads that say, “DDF, UB2”, I say to myself, “You may be today honey, but you won’t be for long!”

    For me, if there is such a thing as poz pride, it comes from a place of knowing when and where to disclose, and that in disclosing I am not presenting myself as an end-cap item, desperate for acceptance. HIV is something that I have. It is not who I am or how I am defined.

  6. Trevor Hoppe November 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Mark, as always you’re asking powerfully provocative and important questions. I think it’s time for a discussion on this topic of Pride. It was certainly a powerful force against stigma for LGBT folks, and it may prove a useful discourse for poz communities. Of course, LGBT pride became a kind of apolitical, commercialized venture — but that was a product of its success. It would have been unthinkable 30-40 years ago when “Pride” was first being adopted by gay and lesbian orgs that companies like Absolut would end up co-opting their language. I think it could hold some potential for poz communities.

  7. Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project November 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Once again, Mark, Thank You for these insights, thoughts and laughs.

  8. Mark on the Hinterland November 6, 2012 at 1:33 am

    I don’t know if I am proud to be pozzie, but I am proud to have survived it for more than 27 years.
    I had never heard of Voltage, but I think I will check it out. I recently had my crix hump removed and look a bit less like Quasimodo, so who knows, even old queens like myself might have a shot. Thanks for your ever-inciteful look at pozzie life.

  9. Ken November 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and have always been enriched by its content. This one, however, really hit home. Like another gentleman said, I am not proud of being positive. It is something I have but it does not define who I am. Thanks for VOLTTAGE. I am going to check it out immediately.

  10. Anne November 13, 2012 at 11:26 am

    As always ,you bring visibility, compassion and a clear eyed account of an often troubling decision–to disclose or not. That is the question, and you have supplied a resource for those searching for an answer. Not everyone will opt for pride, but all should expect and receive acceptance. Keep up the good work!

  11. Liam December 4, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks for the Voltage suggestion. Probably much better than HIVNET.com or HIVChatCity. I live in the rural part of Alabama and have to attend a ghetto clinic where I have to jump thru hoops and wait 2.5 hours before I can even get bloodwork results. But, I work and have insurance but am still below Alabama’s poverty level. I have no problem telling anyone about my status. What really bugs me is the guys who post on profiles that they are negative as of blah blah blah such date. Like it couldnt creep up. I am also trying to get on the Atlanta Gay Pride committee for 2013. I lived there for five years and worked at Backstreet, Hoedowns, Heretic as a bartender so I really miss the city life and try to get there as much as I can as I still have friends at Ansley Mall. I try and keep a positive (no pun) attitude and am always willing to participate in fund raisers or parades or benefits for anyone who needs help.

  12. George June 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Being co-infected with Hep C as well as HIV, I’m even stigmatized by guys who have HIV. I always disclose and I always get rejected. It’s like being an actor and never getting the part I’ve auditioned for. I’m developing a thick skin and I keep pressing on, but it can be very disheartening and lonely at times.

  13. Gary D. July 9, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Interesting article! I have to say that I checked that Voltage site for a couple of months and its pretty much dead.
    I found a great community on the Bareback page on Facebook though.

  14. Mark Olmsted October 7, 2013 at 11:58 am

    The answer is an unquestionable yes. I contracted this virus in the search for intimacy, intimacy of a nature at the time (much less now) condemned by much of society. THATS what I’m proud of, my refusal to live in the closet. HIV was a impersonal byproduct, a virus merely searching for an efficient method of traveling from one host to the other. I’m always astounded how personally people take it, and I am convinced that represents a deeper shame, shame of sexual desire that underlies so much of the country’s historical psychology.

    Largely, though, I felt like Ted Faigle, no shame for being poz, but no pride in particular, reserving such a feeling for an accomplishment, like learning French. But that’s changed recently. I found myself hearing Pat Robertson consign us to hell (yet again) and my thought was “I hope he never gets HIV, because I would hate to share anything with the likes of him.” Suddenly HIV felt like a badge of honor. Men like him aren’t fit to like my poz boots.

    And surviving it all these years is sort of like fighting in a war. You may not be proud of killing the enemy, but you’ll stand there unashamed as they pin medals to your uniform. Because living with this (especially since the 80s) requires grace, grit and a daily striving to be kind to yourself and others. Why shouldn’t you be proud of that?

  15. The Rainbow Warrior October 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    The only pride should come from exposing the hiv hoax and bringing about an end to these atrocities, including prosecuting the perpetrators of false science, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and so-called philanthropists who continue to forward misinformation after learning the truth. Pride shall never come in acquiescing to this deadly farce. The nerve of some people. What kind of twisted logic caused this? How dare they!!

    ““Up to today there is no single scientifically really convincing evidence for the existence of HIV. Not even one such retrovirus has been isolated and purified by the methods of classical virology.”
    – Dr. Heinz Ludwig Sanger, Emeritus Professor of Molecular Biology and Virology, Max-Plank Institute For Biochemistry, Munchen.
    See also The Office of Medical and Scientific Justice.”

    (“AIDS Denialists” are nothing if not persistent, and no amount of science will sway them, it appears. For a thorough posting of every claim they make and the science that disproves them, try this link. — Mark)

  16. Kirk October 9, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Hmm, good question. Pride? Who would believe when I was diagnosed at 19, I’d be around 26 years later to talk about it. I was told back then I had at most 3 years to live.

    I’m glad I have lived so long. But like anything, the look I get when I disclose to new friends is one of sadness…..usually for themselves because they don’t like that someone they care about is sick. I don’t like that look. I don’t want people to worry. So while most of my longtime friends know and don’t care, I don’t usually disclose to new ones. So no pride I guess.

  17. Dale October 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    What a bizarre question. It serves as a window into a disturbed mind. You really have to wonder what kind of person would feel proud about acquiring a dangerous virus and possibly spreading it to others.

    I think the answer is that a cruel, callous person would feel that way. Perhaps someone who cares very little about himself or the lives and health of others. Perhaps someone who prioritizes his own self-esteem and pleasure above all else. Also, someone who is shameless.

    And you foot the bill. Shameless describes you to a tee. Your shamelessness manifests in many ways, but let’s take one: you are a shameless liar. You refer to HIV criminalization. But you have HIV. You run this website trumpeting that fact. You have a Youtube channel discussing this fact. By your own admission, you marched in a parade 20 years ago where you trumpeted that fact. Yet you are not in prison. You have not been prosecuted. Why? Because there is no such thing as “HIV criminalization.” You made that up in order to make yourself feel more like a victim. In fact, what is criminalized is the failure to disclose status to a partner, not being HIV positive. You don’t like that, so rather than deal with reality, you make up a lie that disclosure laws “criminalize” your status. That way, you can make other people feel good about not disclosing.

    You are liar, and by your own admission, a shameless one at that. So I fully expect you to take pride in acquiring a disease. It fits you.

    (How fitting that on the day I served as Grand Marshal of the Atlanta Pride parade, I would come home to such a sadly ignorant comment as this one. It shows how much work there is left to be done. — Mark)

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