Levi Berkshire is a staff member at CARES of Southwest Michigan, a local HIV/AIDS resource and education organization. “LGBTQ people have always faced barriers to health care. That is particularly true for those of us living with HIV,” he said. “Sometimes the barriers take the form of unwelcoming attitudes at a doctor’s office or a lack of understanding from health providers and their staff. At other times, in worst-case scenarios, it is the outright refusal of providing treatment. At those times the barriers are clear: There is a lack of explicit protections from discrimination against LGBTQ people, including here in Michigan.”
Levi unfortunately knows the impact of discrimination – and the fear of it – all too well. As a case manager at CARES, he has heard stories from folks in Southwest Michigan, and he also has had his own experiences with discrimination based on his status.
“Shortly after I was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2014, unrelated to my status, I experienced vertigo. When I went to a doctor for treatment, they asked if they could treat me ‘like a normal person,'” he explained. “What could that possibly mean? It was upsetting, but in the end an educational experience for my doctor, when I explained that yes, they could and should still treat me as they would anyone else.”