Disclosure is telling someone else that you are HIV positive. Sometimes, being HIV positive requires disclosing your status.

Being HIV positive takes some getting used to. Similar to diabetes, HIV requires daily awareness and care. Today, it is a very manageable disease, and when on the right medications, the chance of transmission is very close to zero.

Manageability and zero transmission rates are important to remember when discussing your status with other people. It can help people understand your status. Though HIV will change your daily routine, HIV doesn’t have to ruin your life or anyone else’s. You have the power to keep control of your life. The most difficult factor you will face with disclosure the public stigma surrounding the virus. Because of the stigma that comes attached with HIV, people can misunderstand you and assume things about you that aren’t true.

Remember: Your status is your right, make sure you protect it.

Disclosure is not always necessary, so before you tell someone your status, here are some things to consider.

  • Being anxious about telling people is completely normal and ok. Remember you are not alone, and there are many supports out there for you.
  • Be selective, and do not tell everyone. Pick the people that are closest to you, and are the most supportive.
  • Avoid telling someone in order to “dump” your feelings. Disclosure should be about inviting someone to support you long term, not just to comfort you in the moment. Counselling and support groups are a much better place for expressing your feelings. If you are interesting in support groups, click here.
  • Have a good understanding of HIV in order to fully explain your situation to someone else.
  • Think about the risk. Telling people your status could carry more consequences that you realize.
  • Privacy is your right.
  • Though you have contracted a virus, you are still a safe person.
  • You are not alone. There are millions of HIV positive individuals leading healthy lives.

There many supports in place in Lethbridge for people who are HIV positive. For more information, contact ARCHES.

Because HIV is an incurable infection, every country has certain laws regarding it. Canada has some of the strictest laws regarding HIV disclosure worldwide. Without telling someone your status before sex, you can get charged and prosecuted, which is usually referred to as “criminalization of HIV non-disclosure.” Canada’s laws regarding the matter became even stricter in 2012, stating that even very small chances of HIV transmission are seen as a “realistic possibility”. Not disclosing your status to a sexual partner could result in charges of aggravated sexual assault and jail time.

The Federal court only defined the laws around HIV disclosure in regards to vaginal sex.

It is not required to tell someone your status if: your viral load is at undetectable levels, if you use a condom and if you are having vaginal sex.

In every other circumstance of possible HIV exposure (oral sex, anal sex, or sex without a condom), you can be charged if you do not disclose.

For more information, click here.

In this circumstance, knowing your viral load is very important. If you have a viral load less than 50 copies per blood sample, and on ART, you are considered “undetectable”. This means that the chance of transmitting the virus is incredibly low, basically zero.

Because of this, it is easier to explain to someone that you are planning on having sex with that you are still safe, and that they are not at risk.

Stigma is a hard thing to face, especially when becoming vulnerable through an act like sex. Ignorance perpetuates the fear around HIV, so explain to a sexual partner the basics of HIV and being “undetectable”. If they have a better understanding of what HIV is, how it is contracted, and how they are not at risk if you are undetectable, they will be less afraid.

If you are underage and you contract HIV, generally your parents or guardians should be made aware of your status. This is for three reasons.

  • If you are HIV positive and live in Lethbridge, you will be making regular visits to SAC (Southern Alberta Clinic) in Calgary. Going to and from appointments and working through the hospital system can be complicated and daunting. Having a guardian there to help you through all the steps is important to insure you get the care you need.
  • Stigma is dangerous, and guardians can help protect your reputation and help make wise decisions on who should be made aware of your status.
  • Being HIV positive, though manageable, can be very stressful. Having someone, like a guardian, to talk to and express how you are feeling is very important.

If you do not have a parent/guardian, if you do not trust your parent/guardian, or if you are homeless, you can visit ARCHES at 1206 6th Avenue South, Lethbridge, AB. Click ARCHES for hours services and contacts.

In most work environments, there is little to no risk of HIV transmission, and therefore it is rarely necessary to disclose to an employer. It is never required of you to tell co-workers. The decision should be completely up to you.

If you do decide to disclose, educating yourself on your company’s policies prior is important. Try to find your company’s policy specify on HIV positive employees. Does your company have one? Is it up to date?

If your company has no policy regarding HIV, or even one regarding discrimination, there is a chance you could be unfairly treated. Make sure your employers will respect your decision to disclose.

HIV policies will have several facets to protect HIV positive employees. These will look something like:

  • Equal treatment for HIV positive employees and other employees with illnesses, in regards to pay, time off and right to work (etc.).
  • HIV education and awareness for all employees.
  • A strong opposition to discrimination in the workplace.

If you work in the medical field, it may be required of you to disclose, but it is only in certain circumstances.

For more information regarding HIV policies in workplaces, and when disclosure is necessary, click here.

There are pros and cons to telling friends about your status. It could be a good idea if they are ready to provide support, encouragement and security for you. However, if they do not provide these, and do not keep your private information a secret, there could be very negative consequences.

Another reason for disclosing your status would be to help break stigma. This is if you are confident in your status, and you have come to terms with it. If people on a wider scale found out about your status, but you remained confident with it, it could bring real change. That could be very empowering for you.

On the other hand, your privacy is your right, and it is not your responsibility to use your own life story as a means to fight stigma. There are many trained organizations, non-profits and social change advocates that are already fighting ignorance, fear and stigma surrounding HIV, and they are doing it in order to protect you. If you choose to join them, make sure that it is your decision, and that you have the supports in place for you when you need them.

Telling children is a tricky subject, because every child is different, and could react very differently to disclosure. Children also tend to have little to no filter, and they could be very open about your status, despite it being something you might want kept private.

However, if you are a parent, or are a guardian for a child, telling them could be a good idea. Children are surprisingly resilient and understanding, and explaining HIV in terms they would grasp could help them feel closer to you.

If you do decide to tell a child, keep in mind they may accidentally share personal details about your status to other people. Perhaps plan on being open to everyone that asks about your status, before you share with a child.

Here is an easier way of disclosing HIV to children:

  • The body has a way of fighting of sickness. It’s called the immune system, and it’s the first line of defense against attack.
  • I have a sickness called HIV. It lives in my blood. HIV doesn’t attack my body, it attacks my body’s defense, the immune system.
  • When my immune system can’t work properly, my body cannot fight off other sicknesses.
  • I take medications every day, to make sure that HIV cannot fight my immune system. I also have regular check-ups with my Doctor to make sure that my body is doing well.
  • My medications can work very well, and although I cannot get rid of HIV from my body, I can keep HIV from doing bad things to my body.
  • Because of my medications, I am very healthy, and HIV does not keep me from doing anything I want to do.
  • Also, because of my medications, you cannot get HIV from me.
  • Because HIV is incurable, or you can’t get rid of it once you have it, a lot of people think that HIV is a very bad sickness to have. They believe it is worse than other sicknesses.
  • People that have HIV can get treated badly by other people. I do not tell everyone about my sickness, and that’s ok. I want to protect myself against people treating me badly.