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How a Gay, Latino Immigrant Is Breaking Down HIV Stigma

Photo: Courtesy of Luciano Reberte

Nearly one quarter of the new human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, diagnoses in 2018 were among Hispanics and Latinx people.

The majority of those cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were among gay and bisexual men.

Luciano Reberte is the program director of the Latino Commission on AIDS and a Latino, gay immigrant living with HIV. Reberte is fighting to raise awareness of the virus and break down barriers that may prevent Latinx people and people of color in the LGBTQ+ community who are diagnosed with HIV from receiving the healthcare they need.

“Ten years ago, I received my HIV diagnosis,” Reberte said. “By that time, I had to face many obstacles, such us language barriers, lack of medical insurance, a very distant institutional culture, and fear of being deported due to my immigration status. And all this happened while I was trying to access services and understand a little bit more what HIV was about. 

“It was a very difficult time for me,” he added, “but it inspired me to become an advocate and support others facing similar problems. No one else should have to go through all this alone.”

Conquering stigma

Reberte is an advocate for the U=U initiative, which is part of the Prevention Access Campaign. The goals of U=U include raising awareness of the fact that HIV that is undetectable is untransmissible, lessening the anxiety and stigma people living with HIV may face, and advocating for universal access to prevention and treatment among the HIV community.

Overcoming stigma, he has said, is the biggest barrier for a healthy community, right alongside homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia.

“Stigma, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia have taken too many lives already. It is time to stop it. We need to get together to reach zero homophobia, and we can only do this by educating our community and creating visibility of who we really are by sharing facts and not fear,” he said.

In addition to his work with U=U, Reberte is creating a national network of Latinx gay, bisexual, and transgender men to build leadership within the community, and to respond to their healthcare needs. 

“There are many organizations that provide HIV and social services, and it’s always better for our communities when we work together,” he said.

Increasing visibility 

Through his work, Reberte is aiming to educate his community and create havens where people receive acceptance and support, rather than judgment, both emotionally and clinically. 

“As Latinx [people], we all have many things in common, but when it comes to health, our experience and cultural approach may be different, even among us,” he said. “Therefore, I will continue to listen to them, their experience, and their point of view before anything else.”

Reberte noted that Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place Sept. 15-Oct. 15 each year, is a time to reflect on the strengths of his community — such as the culture, the music, and the food — as well as the problems that plague it. 

“It’s equally important to create awareness and visibility to many other issues that still hurt and impact our community,” Reberte said, “such as family separation and the mistreatment our people face at the U.S. borders and retention centers.”

“It’s also an opportunity to encourage our community to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and to clarify any doubts or misinformation about side-effects. Let’s celebrate by taking care of ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods, by accepting our diversities, and designing a healthier and more united world.”

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