Advocates hope West Hollywood AIDS monument will help end HIV stigma

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- "Stories: The AIDS Monument will be a beautiful work of public art and it will also help us remember the many thousands of people that we lost in the AIDS epidemic," says Tony Valenzuela, the Executive Director of the monument being constructed in West Hollywood Park.

"It will also educate the public about that history," he added.

Since the 1980s, AIDS has taken countless lives too soon causing fear and stigma that still exists today.

Raif Derrazi, who is HIV positive, says, "If I had cancer or if I had diabetes, people would want to like come to me and comfort me. But with HIV, I feel like it's sometimes the opposite. People back away and recoil because of fear."

"HIV is now a condition that can be successfully managed like a chronic medical condition, similar to diabetes. Actually, in my opinion, it can often be managed much easier than diabetes," says Dr. Jay Gladstein, the Medical Director of the APLA Health Olympic Campus.

"It is without a doubt now that if you treat an individual, get their viral load to below detectable level, you make it impossible for that person to transmit the virus," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases.

In other words, undetectable equals untransmittable, or more simply put: "U=U."

"When you show scientifically that 'U actually equals U,' you remove the stigma, but also the reality is that you don't infect anybody else," Fauci said.

How can a monument like this help change the perception of what it means to be HIV positive in 2019?

"I think that anything that takes HIV out of the closet - anything that gets us talking about HIV, both its history and its impact in the present-day - fights stigma," says Valenzuela.

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