The Second Closet: A Qualitative Study of HIV Stigma Among Seropositive Gay Men in a Southern U.S. City

Rigmor C. Berg, Michael W. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objectives: Stigma connected with HIV/AIDS has decreased considerably since the early epidemic yet affects those living with HIV in many ways. Little research, particularly qualitative research, concerning HIV stigma from the perspective of gay men has emerged. The present qualitative study aimed to fill this evidence gap by examining how HIV stigma is perceived and experienced by gay men who have become HIV-infected and how they respond to this stigma. Methods: Thematic analysis of 19 gay men's narratives identified six main themes. Results: Encountering HIV stigmatization was common and was linked to the physical stigmata identifying respondents as HIV-positive. Overwhelmingly, they found stigmatization to be most intensely felt within gay communities. One profound theme was internalized HIV stigma, referring to respondents' internalized negative feelings about their HIV status. A related theme was the closeted nature of HIV. Lastly, regarding how the men dealt with the HIV diagnosis and experiences of HIV stigma, a theme of adaptation became clear. Conclusions: Although exploratory, the results can serve as a beginning framework for understanding and assisting seropositive gay men who experience HIV stigma. The findings are important because it is realistic to expect that in a climate in which HIV has become increasingly invisible and closeted and in which infections are on the rise, gay and bisexual men will be increasingly affected and infected by HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)186-199
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Sexual Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Gay
  • HIV stigma
  • United States
  • qualitative research

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