Introduction

2021 marks the 40th year since the first AIDS cases were reported in the U.S. Decades later, HIV/AIDS continues to be an epidemic with complex characteristics. The spread is fueled and complicated by misinformation and lack of information about the remarkable progress science and medicine have made to make HIV not only preventable, but when treated properly, untransmittable. 

People living with HIV continue to experience stigma, and stigma thrives in silence. Stories and voices of people living with HIV are not prioritized regularly to humanize the epidemic, reduce stigma around it, and illustrate how HIV is preventable. Their stories must be told to show how people with HIV lead long and healthy lives, and cannot sexually transmit HIV when on proper treatment. 

Groundbreaking biomedical advances in HIV care and prevention have transformed the epidemic, yet HIV stigma remains, often in nuanced ways. GLAAD’s 2021 “Where We Are On TV” report found that stories about living with HIV/AIDS decreased in scripted entertainment programming over the last year, as did the number of characters living with HIV or AIDS, dropping from 9 to 3. The only characters living with HIV appeared on FX’s Pose, framing a much bigger issue around lack of visibility, stigma and media responsibility. When Pose aired its final episode earlier this year, the number of TV characters living with HIV dropped to zero. In our report, GLAAD is calling on the TV industry to introduce three new regular or recurring LGBTQ characters living with HIV each year. 

The 2021 State of HIV Stigma Study is a national survey in partnership with the Gilead COMPASS Initiative measuring American attitudes toward HIV and people living with HIV. In this report, we also systematically review the history of HIV stigma in the media to document the current state of research and offer recommendations for media to increase and improve coverage of HIV and people living with HIV. This report also offers strategies from leaders in HIV education and treatment for defeating stigma in all areas of society.

GLAAD was created on November 14, 1985, by journalists and writers determined to hold the media accountable for grossly defamatory and inaccurate media coverage of HIV and its earliest patients.

Over 35 years later, GLAAD has transformed into a dynamic LGBTQ media advocacy organization with an outsized role in accelerating acceptance for all members of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. Advocating for people living with HIV remains a core tenet of GLAAD’s purpose. Educating media professionals, fighting stigma and pushing for 100% acceptance for those living with HIV will always be a critical centerpiece of GLAAD's work.