Commentary: Why Having AIDS Is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of

Magic Johnson

Commentary: Why Having AIDS Is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of

Donald Sterling is wrong about Magic and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Published May 16, 2014

Recently, in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling didn't completely own up to his racial bigotry, but he used the opportunity to continue being offensive.

This time it was about people living with HIV/AIDS.

When asked about what he thought about NBA legend Magic Johnson, the same man that prompted Sterling’s infamous racist tirade, Sterling accused Johnson of pretending to be righteous, when he was promiscuous and “got AIDS.”

“What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done? He’s got AIDS….What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then goes and catches H.I.V.? Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background…. Is he an example for children?”


Here we are, 30-plus years into this epidemic, and we are still having the most basic conversation about HIV/AIDS. For the last time: HIV/AIDS is not a direct consequence of immorality or promiscuity. Anyone who is having unprotected sex can contract this disease, including your holier than thou grandmother.

This epidemic is and will always be a public health crisis, plain and simple.

And while I could go into all the reasons why Sterling is dead wrong about Magic and how AIDS and HIV are not the same thing, I'd rather point out how this incident is bigger than one person. 

Whether it’s Tyler Perry telling Black women living with HIV/AIDS that they don’t deserve love; the misguided belief that the down-low is killing Black women or unfair laws that put HIV-positive people in jail for spitting or biting someone, the message is crystal clear. We don’t value or respect people living with HIV/AIDS. 

I often wonder do people like Sterling even know anyone who has HIV/AIDS?

Do they know that this community is filled with people — mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, grandmothers — who look just like us? Do they know that there are so many amazing role models who happen to be HIV-positive? Do they know how resilient, brave and tenacious people living with HIV/AIDS are?

But most important, do they know just how destructive and devastating the stigma is for people living with HIV/AIDS?

I do and it’s not pretty.

Over the past eight years writing about HIV/AIDS, I have heard stories of people being afraid to get tested for HIV and, when they finally did, the disease had progressed to AIDS. I’ve seen women lose custody of their children, because angry exes have lied in court saying they never knew these ladies were positive. And despite it being against the law, I’ve seen people lose their jobs and homes because someone found out about their HIV status.

One of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever heard came from a young woman who contracted HIV through incest. Her own mother, angry with her for testing positive, physically abused her, wouldn’t let the girl see her own daughter and refused to let her use the bathroom in her house or eat off her utensils.  

You can believe whatever you want about HIV, but what you cannot tell me is that people deserve to be treated like that because of a damn virus. And sadly, this type of bigotry and discrimination isn’t rare. It happens every day, under our watch, and too many of us do and say nothing.

No one should live in shame for having had unprotected sex — an act that HIV-negative folks have done and continue to do every day. However, the ones who should be ashamed are the ignorant people who share Sterling’s backwards and uneducated views.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for Centric)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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