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 Dr. Drew Breaks Down HIV Stigma on ‘I’m Positive’ After Show 

I’m Positive took us inside the lives of three young HIV-positive Americans. But what did they have to say when the camera’s stopped rolling? Watch the After Show to find out.

Kelly, Otis, and Stephanie sat down with Dr. Drew and answered questions from a small studio audience. The cast of ‘I’m Positive’ shared all the details of what it’s like living with HIV, and what young people can do to prevent the virus or treat it. Here’s a quick recap on some of the topics they discussed:

On misconceptions about HIV:
In the After Show, Dr. Drew is the first to point out that “many people don’t realize that HIV is not a death sentence. It is a life commitment.” And he’s right. With the advancements in medicine today, HIV-positive people who get treatment, can live long, healthy lives. Still, a lot of people think HIV means one word—death. It doesn’t have to. The entire cast came to agreement that getting HIV information and education is important to clearing up these misconceptions.

On stigma:
Because people aren’t always educated, misconceptions surrounding HIV add to its stigma. As Kelly mentions in the After Show, “You’re not going to get it from touching me. We can share a spoon, or straw…we can hug.” In most cases, HIV is transmitted by unprotected sex, and you can’t get it through casual contact.

Sadly, the stigma leaves HIV-positive people feeling left alone. As Stephanie points out in the After Show, “You take away the fact that I’m still human. I have this disease and it’s manageable, but you’re looking at me like I can’t touch you.” As tears rolled down her cheeks, Stephanie confessed, “I know I’m not a bad person…It stings. It’s like an empty void that you’re trying to fill. And you want somebody to be there, and you want somebody to accept you.”

On relationships:
Being HIV-positive doesn’t mean you can’t have sex or be in a relationship either. In fact, in ‘I’m Positive’ we learn that Otis and his boyfriend Kanhje have been dating for over a year, and the couple are intimate despite Kanhje’s HIV-negative status. Otis shares in the After Show that in order to protect Kanhje, they always use protection. And by getting treated and keeping the amount of the virus in his system low, Otis adds an extra buffer of protection to their intimacy.

Kelly also had a few things to say about dating, including what happened to her and Aaron after the show. While they loved each other very much, Kelly and Aaron had some serious communication issues. Kelly’s no longer on the dating scene, and she’s definitely through with Aaron. Still, for those HIV-positive people who are dating she recommends that they share their status with their bf/gf when they feel comfortable. And to definitely do it before things get “hot and heavy.”

On activism:
The three stars of ‘I’m Positive’ are activists for HIV awareness, and they advocate for the cause for different reasons and in different ways. Otis works at a testing center and wants to do whatever it takes to tell youth that the virus still exists and isn’t a joke, even if that means putting his face on billboards all across Dallas, his hometown. Kelly plans to share her story through speaking engagements around the country, and she does it so that HIV/AIDS will end in this generation. Stephanie volunteers at a jail sharing her status and story with the inmates. She advocates to show people that her life is no different than that of someone who doesn’t have HIV. On the After Show, Stephanie further explains, “That’s what makes me push even more to do the show—to clear up the stigma.”

On the role of positives and negatives:
You don’t have to go on television to do your part in getting to an AIDS-free generation. HIV-positives can start by encouraging friends and family to get tested. They can talk to their partners and always should use protection. Getting treated is another crucial way positives can help end AIDS—if people stay on correct treatment it can prevent their infection from progressing to AIDS.

People who are HIV-negative also have a role to play. They can start by always using protection to prevent the spread of the virus. HIV-negative people should also get tested and ask their doctor to get tested. Finally, HIV-negative people have a role in fighting the stigma surrounding HIV by getting educated and being informed on what HIV is and what it isn’t.

It was Otis in the After Show who best summarized every person’s individual responsibility: “Get educated. Get tested. Know your status. And if you happen to be HIV-positive, please get in care.”

In the end Dr. Drew thanked the cast for sharing their stories and for being so open about their mistakes so that people could avoid making the same mistakes. It was incredibly brave of Kelly, Otis, and Stephanie to share their stories, and we know that they’ll continue to inspire and advocate for HIV awareness in the future!