"I've been telling a lot of people to speak truth to power and I was like, I think I have to take my turn to speak truth to power," the "Queer Eye" star tells Jimmy Kimmel.
Jonathan Van Ness may have been scared to be vulnerable with people when he first revealed his HIV-positive diagnosis, but the "Queer Eye" star was absolutely fearless in expressing why he felt it was so important he do so.
And it wasn't just one reason, either, but rather a compounding of several things like the social stigma still surrounding HIV and AIDS, the political climate that seems to be attacking needed resources and a general lack of knowledge or understanding about the current state of HIV in this country.
"We have come such a long way in the medical community and it's interesting because there's just reason, with what we know and the medical advances we've had in the last 20 years, for anyone to be contracting HIV now," Jonathan said. And yet, he noted, there are states "that have new HIV infection rates that are really alarming and it's so sad because it doesn't need to be."
And while the "devastating" reveal may have been what dominated the headlines when the story first broke, Jonathan does see a positive side to this, and that is the platform that he now has to talk about his own experiences as an HIV-positive person, including misconceptions about what the diagnosis means, how transmittable it is, and the challenges HIV-positive people shouldn't have to face but do.
Those challenges, which Jonathan says are growing under Trump, including the closure of the HIV Advisory Council in 2017 and the targeting of Planned Parenthood facilities.
"Had it not been for Planned Parenthood, I wouldn't have known that I was HIV-positive," Jonathan shared. "I didn't have health insurance at the time and I needed access to testing." Just as there is this huge misconception about HIV, Jonathan is also attacking the notion that Planned Parenthood just sets up shop and does abortions all day.
"As I've witnessed this kind of like demonization of people who dare to be pregnant or engage in sex from Planned Parenthood I was like, you know, I really need to speak about this," he said. And he's done just that, taking his story and his message directly to Nancy Pelosi last week, who even tweeted that she had taken time out from her own rather busy schedule at the moment to speak with him about the Equality Act.
But political motivations were just one piece of the puzzle for Jonathan's decision. There's also the very practical reality on the ground, as he experienced first-hand recently.
Now that he's a jet-setter, his life is a lot more mobile than it used to be, which means he found himself in a situation where his prescription medications to manage his HIV was sitting in his place in New York while he was in Philadelphia. "I didn't want to miss it, so I went to CVS, I had my prescription and they were like, Yeah that'll be $3,500."
Jimmy's jaw literally dropped at that number, and yet that is a reality facing many HIV-positive people. And this is an incredible medication that has revolutionized what it means to be diagnosed HIV-positive, because it creates a dynamic that was unheard of in the 1980s and 1990s, and this message is yet another huge reason Jonathan wanted to use his platform to talk about it.
"Let's talk more about it!" he pleaded with the audience. He wants to remove the stigma around talking about HIV and STIs because it really can mean all the difference to people because, as it turns out, we have the tools now to practically eliminate HIV within a generation.
The medication Jonathan was stunned to find out CVS wanted $3,500 for was called ART (ati retroviral therapy), and HIV-positive people can see their "viral load" reduced to the point of being undetectable. "Undetectable equals untransmittable," Jonathan emphasized, citing several studies, including one conducted over ten years with couples (one positive, one negative) where there was not a single transmission.
And on top of that, Jonathan pointed out, "you can really live a gorgeous, normal life, like 50 to 75 years."
On top of that, he highlighted other drugs (Truvada or PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis]) that can be used by HIV-negative people as a preventative that Jonathan said was 99 percent effective. But the existence of these drugs isn't helpful without proper education about them, the truth about HIV, and proper accessibility and affordability.
And that's where Jonathan's platform can make a difference, since HIV and AIDS have effectively fallen off the radar over the past two decades.
"People that are finding out that they're HIV-positive need a doctor and they need their medication and they need to know that they're going to have access to their medication forever," Jonathan said. "Because we know that when people who are living with HIV maintain their undetectable viral loads through ART therapy, honey, we aren't contagious forever."
Right now, Jonathan said there are programs that can help, but there are like "four, five, six layers of social safety net" that he knows he struggled to navigate when he was first diagnosed at 25 years old.
One of the biggest benefits of opening the curtains and shining a light on HIV and STIs as they exist today is it goes a long way toward battling social stigmas, stereotypes and prejudices that are so often based in ignorance.
And as Jonathan pointed out, his book is about so much more than his HIV diagnosis, just as he is so much more than it. It is "one little baby line in this gorgeous 280-page book," just as it is one tiny facet of everything that makes JVN unique and amazing.
But the book is still very much about social stigma and education and a lack of understanding as it impacted his own life growing up in a small town in Illinois. Stigmas about sexuality, gender identity, feminism, race and so much more need to be knocked down through the power of education and representation and just talking about these things on huge public platforms like "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
"By ending stigma and really embracing acceptance, more people like me won't want to escape their little baby hometowns and they'll have better upbringings where they're not getting bullied," Jonathan said, before slipping in another quick political jab: "And then maybe we can take the electoral college back that way."
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