Thursday, June 27, 2013

An Interview with "Stigma Warrior," Josh, from

Josh Robbins learned on Jan. 24, 2012 that he was HIV positive. He “decided to make a blog because [his] new circumstance of being newly poz [wasn’t his] death sentence… or even close to what defines [HIM] as Josh.” His blog has gone on to inspire many allies and people living with HIV, and he continues to a strong figure in stopping the spread of stigma.

Visit to learn more about this incredible individual!

Listen to the podcast of this interview! 

SAN:  You have been running your blog for about a year and a half now—what has been one of the most memorable moments or learning experiences?

Josh: When I started the blog, I didn’t know what it was or would be—and I still feel that way sometimes. Through this medium, I am just sharing my experiences and journey and what it has been like for me to live with something day-to-day, month-to-month, and now over a year that I was completely scared of as a gay man.

With that said, it has been a process of seeing this platform grow and handling the unexpected responsibility that comes with it. I have been surprised with the amount of people who engage with me through I'm Still Josh (ISJ). Almost every day someone contacts me and shares their very personal stories which I am honored and humbled to hear. That has really been the biggest thing from and so I feel partly a responsibility to respond to those people for sharing that. I want to thank them for investing their time and for hearing about my continuous journey.

SAN: What do you think your impact has been in terms of stigma reduction?

Josh: What I found is that we have these digital stigma warriors (and I like to include myself in that) who are changing the way people think about HIV. There are different ways of understanding HIV, for example: as an HIV negative person who thinks HIV is the worst thing that could happen to you and living in fear of it; and then as an individual who is diagnosed and realizes it is not a death sentence and you can still be you. Closing those mental barriers and taking down those walls --it requires talk from people and organizations like ours to do this. That is what I feel like I am a part of and what I have committed to thus far.

I believe that if we catch people who are recently diagnosed and we catch them early enough and encourage the hell out of them then we have the ability to change them from being victims to heroic stigma warriors who educate the community about what HIV is, how to prevent it, and how to live alongside people like us. That encouragement period of time is so important to me and that is what I have concentrated the most on. That part of my life has the most success. It is something I am very passionate about.

SAN: Well I saw you started an encouragement wall on Facebook, so that is a very concrete way that you are digitally supporting people.

Josh: Yes! And I haven’t officially launched it yet—but my goal is for it to be the largest digital encouragement wall for those recently living with HIV. What I am doing is getting quotes from different significant people to influence how those who are recently living with HIV feel about themselves.

The idea actually came from the AIDS Quilt. It is so big and people are constantly adding to it, and that’s what I hope to see from the Encouragement Wall on ISJ. Eventually users will be able to come to the site and make their own and have their work immediately added to the wall. I am excited to see how it develops with people’s different words, pictures, and forms of expression.

“If you don’t talk about HIV, and you don’t 
talk about those elements that turn 
into stigma—how can you ever 
combat it and end it?”

SAN: That sounds great! Us too! What do you think the most effective way for people to reduce stigma is (aka be a #StigmaWarrior)?

Josh: I think that HIV needs to become real to individuals and their networks by talking about it in a very personal way. It requires a bit of trust and vulnerability from people--like myself--who are living with HIV. Furthermore, it is equally as important for people to stand up as allies to and speak out for the community of people living with HIV.

The whole reason I got involved with this was because I went to a group therapy session for people living with HIV in Nashville. Everyone seemed to have an attitude of defeat.

They told me: “Josh, you just don’t understand what it is like to hear these words, for people to not want to date you because of this virus.”

My response was: “If you don’t talk about HIV, and you don’t talk about those elements that turn into stigma—how can you ever combat it and end it?”

For me that was an epiphany --when I left and I refused to shut up. From that, I have really learned to and convinced myself that I am going to be ok, all of which has really reduced my internal stress as well as helped my health and impacted my view on HIV.

SAN: Very true. Well, those are all my questions. Thank you again so much for taking the time to do this interview. It has been a real pleasure.

Josh: Same here, but before we go I want to tell you something… 

Check out the exclusive story Josh gave the SAN!  

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