Stephen Bridges received more than his share of negative treatment growing up as a gay Black man, especially living with HIV/AIDS.
Bridges, who became diagnosed with the virus 31 years ago, said he got bullied by Black people and those in the Black church who “made it clear [I’m] going to hell.”
Now at 58, living in the District, he says there’s at least one person who has his back: comedian and radio personality Joe Clair.
“Yes, we do have different last names. This is my older brother. My advocacy really comes from him,” Clair said Monday, Nov. 30 during a virtual discussion on eliminating HIV/AIDS. “He set a great example for me as a young man. I have him to thank for that.”
Clair headlined a one-hour discussion sponsored by the Prince George’s County Health Department along with WUSA9-TV with up to 115 people logged on.
According to a September report from the Maryland Department of Health, about 31,630 residents lived with HIV/AIDS in 2019.
Last year, the state reported about 931 people received HIV+ diagnoses with 74 percent of them Black and 11 percent each white and Latino.
The majority-Black jurisdictions of Prince George’s and Baltimore City recorded the highest rate of new HIV+ diagnoses last year with at least 25.8 per 100,000 people. The state average rate: 18.6.
The county’s Health Department has joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a goal to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent in five years and at least 90 percent over the next decade.
Prince George’s will join 47 other targeted areas nationwide to secure funding and other resources in fighting the epidemic. It especially helps during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with nearly 42,000 confirmed cases in the county, which continues to lead the state.
Diane Young, a registered nurse and associate director with the county’s Family Health Services Division in the health department, said HIV services are now gender neutral and those who aren’t diagnosed with the virus can also access various housing, financial assistance and job training support.
“We offer a range of services to try and keep people healthy,” she said. “COVIE-19 has really highlighted what’s going on [with] the disparities in health care and it crosses all social and economic demographics,” she said.
Health agencies define HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, as an infection that attacks the immune system. Medication can control the virus allowing people to live long, productive lives.
Contracting HIV can lead to the development of AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and cause other infections in the body such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and lymphoma.
The conversation took place one day before World Aids Day on Tuesday, Dec. 1, which commemorates those who died from the deadly disease while continuing to seek ways to fight the disease and celebrate those who live with HIV.
Although medications such as PrEP and PEP (pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis) help prevent HIV infection, Bridges said people living with the virus should receive therapy and support from loved ones.
“I recommend therapy and being honest – not +++being ashamed about the disease and your infection,” he said. “To families, I strongly encourage that you embrace the family member or friend and let them know it’s going to be ok. Love up on your family member and friend and hold them close and, as best you can, guide them through the process so that they never feel alone.”