Reed Vreeland was born with HIV, but that has not stopped the 27 year old from falling in love and advocating to put an end to HIV stigma. Reed found out about his HIV status when he was 7 years old from his father. He spoke with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin about the fear of stigma and about his “most romantic first kiss”.
In 2006, in college, Vreeland met a woman with whom he had an incredible first date. At the end of it, she ran toward him and puckered her lips to kiss him, and in that moment, he had a decision to make about how to handle the information about his status.
"I felt the stigma, I felt the fear," he says. He knew that if he told her about his HIV, it could become fodder for the campus rumor mill. So he opted to kiss her on the forehead, much to her confusion.
"The following day we had a deeper conversation, and I disclosed to her that I was living with HIV." He describes it as a huge leap, and a huge investment of trust in her. Later, they shared "the most romantic first kiss" Vreeland has ever had in his life, and they began a great relationship — they're now married.
His wife, Vreeland says, is more the exception than the rule when it comes to how people handle his HIV status. "The stigma you face, still, with medical professionals is very significant. And you constantly feel you're being judged," he says.
Together, they see a future with a family, and Vreeland plans to continue his work as an activist on behalf of people with HIV. It's time, he says, "to force society at large and our medical establishment to confront this issue and stop making people living with HIV carry the full burden of stigma. We're not going to do it anymore."
It is not easy for someone to disclose their HIV status in such a public way. It was said, more times than not, that if every gay person were to come out, we would have an easy way to equality. Could the same be said about those living with HIV? These are our neighbors, friends, co-workers and family.
Although there is no vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS as of yet, there has been a tremendous amount of progress in the fight against the virus from the medical side. However, the problem of stigma to those living with HIV remains. People living with HIV live in fear of people knowing their status. People need to have an accurate understanding about HIV and AIDS. People with HIV love and feel like anyone else. They have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of.
Reed's story proves we can move beyond the stigma of HIV, even if it's one person at a time.