The Reason R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe Avoided Getting Tested For HIV For A Long Time

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The LGBTQ+ community lived with the fear of testing positive for HIV for a very long time due to society’s perception of the virus as well as their attitude toward people who are HIV positive. Just because of this fear, there are still people who lose their lives due to the lack of early diagnoses.

It’s fair to say that things were far more complicated in the past than now, even for those you may think lived a relatively free life. For R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, his coming out journey and his experiences with HIV and AIDS were very much under the public eye.

This is why the musician lived in fear and hesitated to get tested for a very long time. Today, we’re here to take a look at his struggles as a queer young man who was under the pressure of homophobia as well as the crooked discrimination against human immunodeficiency viruses.

When Did Michael Stipe Publicly Come Out?

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After people had already started questioning Michael Stipe’s sexual orientation, the musician described himself as ‘an equal opportunity lech’ in 1994. However, he did not define himself as gay, straight, or bisexual at that time despite revealing that he had relationships with both men and women in the past.

In 1995, he appeared on the cover of Out magazine, which is a popular LGBTQ+ magazine. Stipe described himself as a ‘queer artist‘ in Time in 2001 and revealed that he had been in a relationship with a man for three years at that point. The singer currently lives with his long-term partner, the photographer Thomas Dozol, in New York and Berlin.

Michael Stipe Was Afraid Of Getting The HIV Test

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Before coming out as a queer artist, rumors that Michael Stipe had contracted HIV began to circulate in 1992. The musician responded to these rumors saying that just because he wore a hat that said ‘White House Stop AIDS,’ and he’s skinny doesn’t mean he’s HIV positive; he’s just queer-friendly.

His statement follows:

“Not that I can tell. I wore a hat that said ‘White House Stop AIDS.‘ I’m skinny. I’ve always been skinny, except in 1985 when I looked like Marlon Brando, the last time I shaved my head. I was really sick then. Eating potatoes.

I think AIDS hysteria would obviously and naturally extend to people who are media figures and anybody of indecipherable or unpronounced sexuality. Anybody who looks gaunt, for whatever reason. Anybody who is associated, for whatever reason, whether it’s a hat, or the way I carry myself as being queer-friendly.”

In 2014, Michael Stipe appeared at Logo TV’s Trailblazers event to introduce civil rights activist John Abdallah Wambere to discuss his experience of being young and queer. The musician candidly opened up about being a young queer man who was afraid of getting tested for HIV due to the fear of alienation, quarantine, and the threat of internment camps.

Due to this fear, Stipe admitted that he waited for five years to get his first anonymous HIV test. However, the musician also didn’t forget to mention that the social perception of  HIV and AIDS has changed for the better, as there is more acceptance and tolerance now.

According to Rolling Stone, Stipe stated:

“In the early Eighties, as a 22-year-old queer man living during the Reagan-Bush administration, I was afraid to get tested for HIV for fear of quarantine, the threat of internment camps, and having my basic civil rights stripped away.

I waited five years to get my first anonymous test. I am happy that attitudes have matured and changed, and I feel lucky that I live in a country where acceptance, tolerance, and policy toward HIV-AIDS and LGBTQ issues have advanced as far as they have.”

Unfortunately, the fear surrounding HIV continues today since the judgment coming from those who don’t understand the virus is very visible. Furthermore, countless people who are homophobic still exist today, but the LGBTQ+ community and allies have to keep hoping for the better.