Why Mykki Blanco's announcement could help fight the HIV stigma
Last Friday, immensely talented rapper, poet, and performance artist Michael Quattlebaum Jr. — aka Mykki Blanco — announced on Facebook that he has been HIV positive for the last five years.
The post immediately received an outpouring of love and support from his fans, and Blanco tacked on in the comments, “No more living a lie. HAPPY PRIDE.”
“Hiding, being afraid of stigma is exhausting,” he continued. “We are souls not image’s [sic].”
Many were quick to thank Blanco for his bravery and for helping to raise awareness about the virus, especially given that it’s still considered a taboo to talk about. Unfortunately, the HIV and AIDs stigma is very much alive and well — even though major medical advancements in the last few decades have meant HIV-positive individuals are leading long, fulfilling lives, regardless of diagnosis.
The CDC estimates that at least 1.2 million people over the age of 13 are HIV-positive in the United States alone, with 14% of those individuals undiagnosed. International AIDs and HIV charity AVERT estimates that over 34 million people worldwide carry the virus. Yet given how common it is, we don’t talk about it nearly enough — and that lack of dialogue and education just further feeds into a collective fear of the “unknown.” This is something we need to fight to change.
Blanco went on to further address his fans on Twitter.
“I meet a lot of people and I am blessed with many friends and acquaintances so I wanted to take a moment right now to address you all,” he began. “If you feel sad or betrayed that I could not tell you 5 years ago I understand and I don’t fault you for feeling this way. It is easier for me now living HIV Positive for 5 years to make the statement to say it than it maybe [sic] for you to receive it.”
Blanco went on to assure fans that he hadn’t been “laying low” for the past year without reason, either — and that we could all expect new projects soon. (In case you aren’t familiar with Blanco’s work, now’s the time to catch up, and “Wavvy” is a good place to start.) Blanco is an immensely talented artist and a champion for LGBTQ+ rights (he identifies as multi-gender, and uses interchangeable pronouns), and his diagnosis does not define who he is or all that he has accomplished. On top of that, Blanco’s disclosure can help to foster dialogue about how we talk about HIV and AIDS, and to humanize something that we shouldn’t even be shaming in the first place.
And he isn’t alone. Recently, one HIV-positive father hoped to help dispel the stigma by posting a photo with his wife and three kids — all of whom are HIV-negative — and it quickly went viral. Lifestyle magazine, Vangardist, printed its last issue with HIV-positive blood, in order to make a point about how fear of the virus has fostered the lack of dialogue. (In case you were concerned, the blood is completely safe and was pasteurized for added measure.)
Blanco’s bravery in publicly disclosing his HIV status was incredibly admirable, and we couldn’t be happier to hear that he feels free for having done it.