Samantha Cowan | TakePart
Hip-hop and performance artist Mykki Blanco has been using his music to start conversations regarding LGBT issues for the past five years. But while he’s often thought of as one of the foremost queer rappers, he’s been keeping quiet about a big part of his life.
Corresponding with his performance at pride event in Oregon and LGBT pride celebrations happening this week throughout the country, Blanco made a public declaration on his Facebook page Friday night.
“I’ve been HIV positive since 2011, my entire career. F— stigma and hiding in the dark, this is my real life,” he wrote. “I’m healthy. I’ve toured the world 3 times but I’ve been living in the dark, it’s time to actually be as punk as I say I am.”
Blanco isn’t alone in this anxiety. While some people who are HIV positive might choose to disclose their status with a select few, many won’t even get tested for fear of how their lives will change if they discover they’re HIV positive.
More than 1.2 million people living in the U.S. are HIV positive, but as many as 14 percent are unaware of their condition, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shortly after the announcement, Blanco added, “The music industry ain’t gonna like I admitted this so if a curator could help me move more into the art world that would be awesome.” Whether the business is ready for a gay, HIV positive rap star remains to be seen, but workplace discrimination is a legitimate concern. Federal laws prohibit discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but that doesn’t mean employers won’t do it anyway. Between 1997 and 2013, more than 4,000 complaints were filed regarding alleged discrimination of people who are HIV positive by bosses or coworkers.
Some of this fear on the part of employers and society in general stems from a misunderstanding of HIV and AIDS. When it first became prevalent in the 1980s, little was known about the disease, and people feared it could be spread through casual contact. Many states have criminalized the act of exposing someone to HIV or AIDS. Putting the onus of protection on only one partner has become a recent topic of contention, especially as more than 500 cases have been filed since the 1990s, often for frivolous instances like biting or spitting.
By speaking openly about his status and showing how healthy and successful someone with HIV can be, Blanco is helping to combat some of those negative misconceptions. So far, the response from his fans has been overwhelmingly positive.
One wrote: “Mykki you are a hero and a warrior. Thanks for taking a step against #hivstigma.”