person speaking with caption 'so I got the test results today' (l) person speaking with caption 'it's day 5 of living with HIV' (c) person speaking with caption 'my CD4 and CD8 are also pretty normal so I don't have a severe case of it' (r)

@zachwillmore/TikTok

‘Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it wrong’: The internet is defending a TikToker living with HIV from Twitter hate (updated)

‘Grow up if queer joy in the face of an epidemic makes you upset.’

 

Tricia Crimmins

Internet Culture

After queer TikToker Zachary Willmore announced that he had been diagnosed with HIV, he received an outpouring of support on TikTok and Twitter despite viral homophobic tweets about his diagnosis.

On Feb. 17, Willmore recorded a TikTok video saying that he had been diagnosed with HIV. He posted the video about a week later.

“I’m worried about people looking at me as untouchable,” Willmore, 19, says in his video. “This honestly feels like the end of the world to me.”

Many know Willmore as the teen who made headlines for being the first male student to be crowned homecoming queen at his Missouri high school. A year and a half later, Willmore has almost 2 million followers on TikTok, where he now posts his “video diary” of living with HIV.

The TikToker did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.

@zachwillmore Day 1 of my video diary #hiv #gay #viral #diary ♬ original sound – ★ Star Boy ★

Many commenters on Willmore’s announcement about his HIV diagnosis expressed support for him and admiration for his openness.

“The oldest living person with HIV passed at 100! You are not gross or untouchable and I’m sending you so much love,” queer TikToker Jory (@alluringskull) commented.

“You are so amazing for posting this,” Asher (@stinkyasher) wrote.

Positive comments continued to flow in on Willmore’s subsequent videos, including his “day 5 of living with HIV” vlog, posted on Feb. 28. However, Willmore’s video, which shows him spending time with his mother and explaining the viral load of his HIV, received some hate on Twitter.

In a tweet posted on March 6, @slatzism wrote, “You were born too late to explore the earth, too early to explore the stars, but just in time to see zoomers vlog their HIV diagnosis.” The day prior, @slatzism also tweeted about Willmore with a reference to the Bible.

“Sodom and Gomorrah was a warning not an instruction manual,” @slatzism tweeted. (The user did not respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.)

In response, @slatzism’s tweets received thousands of quote tweets and replies, many of which were defending Willmore—and making the point that Willmore’s candidness about his diagnosis is important.

“Imagine being pressed over someone who has access to PrEP sharing with others that an HIV diagnosis is something manageable,” @877kashnow tweeted. “Grow up if queer joy in the face of an epidemic makes you upset.”

“People died and faught [sic] for this person to be able to speak openly about it and end the stigma,” @BradLee918 tweeted. “Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it wrong.”

“When I first got sick I had a discussion with one of the hospital staff about stigma and they eventually disclosed to me that they have undetectable HIV but being open about it could threaten their job,” @othergaystoner tweeted. “I’m glad people are starting to make silly TikToks about it.”

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, over 40 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses, according to UNAIDS. In 2021, almost 40 million people were recorded as living with HIV—75% of which were accessing treatment, including antiretroviral therapy.

Update 3:22pm CT, March 30: In a phone interview with the Daily Dot, Willmore said that he was initially nervous to talk about his HIV diagnosis because he didn’t want to “add to the stigma” surrounding the disease. However, the support he has received from people in his life and online has made a huge impact.

“The support has been amazing,” Willmore told the Daily Dot. “It’s really helped me personally get through the events and really process it myself.”

With regard to the backlash he received about his openness about having HIV, Willmore explained that he uses TikTok “as a diary,” and that he wishes that anyone giving him hate would “take the time to understand what HIV actually is” and the importance of his transparency.

“The hardest part of living with HIV hasn’t been the actual virus because I just take a pill once a day now,” Willmore said. “It’s been the stigma and the fear of what people are going to think of me.”

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