The People: Scott McGlothlen
Scott McGlothlen uses communication to combat the social stigma of HIV.
By Brett McPherson
Publish Date: January 30, 2014
Scott McGlothlen is working to change the conversation about HIV
Scott McGlothlen (B.A. sociology ’04) found out he was HIV positive in 2007 and he has talked about it ever since to counter the myth and suspicion surrounding the virus.
“It’s not only a disease that can kill you … but also that has so much social stigma on top of that,” he says. “Death no longer seems to be the main fear, but rather other people knowing” about a person’s HIV-positive status.
And it is this fear, McGlothlen says, that hinders open communication between partners, which otherwise might be a powerful weapon against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
“A huge portion of it is the fear of judgment,” he explains. “People don’t want to talk about the disease because they think it makes them seem weak or inferior.”
McGlothlen contracted HIV from a friend. Medications taken soon after exposure can reduce the chance of becoming HIV positive, but McGlothlen didn’t ask about his partner’s health. He wanted to avoid an uncomfortable conversation—an approach that is all too common, he says.
In 2011 McGlothlen started a nonprofit called Gravity for young people living with HIV and he writes monthly about the virus for Out Front Colorado. He speaks at schools and churches, advocating full disclosure by people who are HIV positive, even in the face of concerns by an employer or partner.
“It’s kind of good to make people uncomfortable about it, so maybe they’ll stand out and learn more,” he says. “Without talking about it, people aren’t thinking about it. They’re using protection less and getting tested less.”
People who are HIV-free should not shy away from dating those who are infected, McGlothlen says. People with HIV are likely to be taking medicines that suppress the virus, and safe sex is more often the standard in a relationship in which HIV is openly discussed.
As for his mission to inspire more conversation about the virus, McGlothlen says, “One of the worst things that ever happened to me has been a catalyst for one of the most positive things in my life … helping educate people who don’t understand a lot about it.”