Living life with HIV: One man’s story

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Living life with HIV looks much different today than it did 30 years ago.

While there has been some progress between fighting the virus itself and breaking the stigma surrounding it, many say there’s still a long way to go.

Meet Jonathan Thurston. He’s from Tennessee, but currently lives in Lansing for graduate school at Michigan State.

Jonathan has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English, but he says sometimes people look past his accomplishments and only focus on one thing.

“January 7th of 2015 I was diagnosed with HIV from a partner who had lied to me about their status. This was a partner I had been with for about a year. It was a closed relationship and he just lied about his status,” said Thurston.

The response from the public is sometimes too much to handle.

“Since then, I’ve received at least 500 messages just online and through social media telling me to kill myself because I have HIV, people saying they wish they could take people like me to an island and blow us up,” said Thurston. “I’ve known people who have refused to eat my cooking because they’re scared they could get HIV that way, so it’s been a lot of stigma like that.”

That’s what Jonathan is working to change: the stigma. He’s taking part in the Ingham County Health Department’s newly launched campaign “This is life with HIV,” in hopes of dispelling some of those myths.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today and about one in seven of those people are unaware of their status.

“HIV truly can be managed like a chronic disease like asthma or diabetes,” said Anne Scott, the deputy health officer for the Ingham County Health Department. “It just requires management, but it doesn’t mean the end of the world necessarily or the end of your life.”

Scott says the biggest problem is that many people are misinformed. While HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex, it can be treated with medicine, and cannot be given through casual contact like kissing, hugging, or shaking a person’s hand.

“Frankly, for a lot of folks that get a diagnosis of HIV, it’s the stigma and the misinformation that is actually the hardest part of that diagnosis,” said Scott.

For Jonathan, he plans to keep educating others in hopes of creating a brighter future for people like him.

“People with HIV are still people,” said Thurston. “They are not a walking, living, virus. They are worthy of sex, they are worthy of love, they are worthy of intimacy, they are worthy of your friendship. None of that changes just because they have HIV.”

The Ingham County Health Department will be recognizing World AIDS Day tomorrow with free, confidential HIV testing.

For more information, click here.

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