September 17, 2016

Southern Living: Why the South is the epicenter of AIDS in the US

This article originally appeared in MD Magazine.

When HIV outreach specialist William Chastang loses a client to AIDS he often wants to attend the funeral.

But all too often, Chastang said today at a session on HIV in the South held at the 20th Annual US Conference on AIDS in Hollywood, FL, he is asked to stay home.

“I’ve had family tell me not to come to funerals because I’m the HIV man,” he said. In the rural South, where Castang works, families who lose someone to AIDS often pretend the deceased died of cancer, so strong is the stigma of having AIDS. If Chastang shows up, the other attendees will connect the dots and figure out the person really died of AIDS, and his survivors may feel ostracized.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US South has the highest rates of AIDS cases among US states.

Like many who spoke at the session Chastang blamed deeply ingrained fear and prejudice regarding gay and lesbian people, a bias he and others who spoke said is reinforced by Black churches. In the South many of these churches turn people away if they are HIV positive, and also reject gay, lesbian and transgender people in general.

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