Filipino celebrities

Overcoming the stigma: Celebrities who bravely shared personal HIV journeys

Patty Bufi

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Overcoming the stigma: Celebrities who bravely shared personal HIV journeys
These local and foreign celebrities are using their platforms to openly share their struggles, humanizing the condition

MANILA, Philippines – It’s always a courageous act when celebrities use their platforms to educate younger generations about HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Despite significant advancements in treatment and care, HIV/AIDS continues to be heavily stigmatized. One way to help break the stigma is when high-profile figures openly share their journeys, in a way humanizing the condition, challenging stereotypes, boosting sorely-needed awareness, and proving that an HIV diagnosis doesn’t have to be a source of shame.

Adrian Lindayag

Film and theater actor Adrian Lindayag recently made a powerful announcement, revealing his HIV-positive status for the first time since his 2017 diagnosis.

Through his portrayal of Angel Dumott Schunard in Rent, Lindayag aims to empower others and educate the public about living with HIV. His advocacy for awareness and understanding highlights the importance of knowledge in overcoming fear and discrimination associated with the virus.

Wanggo Gallaga

Wanggo Gallaga, screenwriter and son of acclaimed director Peque Gallaga, is an HIV/AIDS advocate who publicly revealed his status in 2008.

Inspired by celebrities like Madonna and Freddie Mercury, he champions awareness campaigns like Project Headshot Clinic. Frustrated by a lack of basic knowledge, Gallaga emphasizes personal responsibility in educating oneself about HIV/AIDS, and even uses humor to lighten discussions surrounding the condition. 


RuPaul’s Drag Race star Ongina considers her biggest struggle to be finding out her HIV-positive status in 2006. She recounts this time in her life to be the hardest, considering she was at the peak of her career and happiness in New York City when she received the news.

Despite feeling dejected and terrified, the Filipino-American performer decided to take control of her life and educated herself on her condition. She proceeded to follow her doctor’s orders, and has been making the best of her life’s situation since then. 

Magic Johnson

In a history-making 1991 press conference, basketball superstar Magic Johnson dropped a bombshell to his many fans – he was HIV-positive.

His courage to go public launched him into a new role as an ardent HIV/AIDS activist, helping immensely to combat stigma. One of his primary efforts has been through the Magic Johnson Foundation, which he established in the same year. The foundation focuses on addressing health and educational disparities in underserved communities, with a particular emphasis on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. 

Freddie Mercury

Rock legend Freddie Mercury revealed his AIDS diagnosis just a day before his tragic 1991 death at 45.

The Queen frontman’s candor made him one of the first huge celebs to go public with their diagnosis, shattering stigmas that AIDS only hit certain groups. His openness turned him into an unexpected activist, putting an iconic face to the AIDS crisis that was devastating communities worldwide at the time. In his final days, the singer used his massive platform to boost much-needed visibility and compassion.

Jonathan Van Ness

In his honest 2019 memoir Over the Top, Jonathan Van Ness opened up about being HIV-positive, sharing that he was diagnosed at age 25 after fainting at a hair salon.

Upon learning of his status, he moved to Los Angeles in hopes of starting fresh. It was there that Van Ness eventually launched his Gay of Thrones web series with Funny or Die, the project that kicked off his rise to stardom on Queer Eye. Despite the struggles he faced, JVN has bravely opened up about his HIV journey, using his platform to educate, fight stigma, and show that the virus is manageable with proper treatment and care.

Billy Porter

In a powerful 2021 interview, award-winning actor and singer Billy Porter revealed he had been living with HIV for the past 14 years.

The Pose star was diagnosed in 2007 and found comfort upon revealing his condition to his mother. Porter made the brave decision to go public with his HIV-positive status at age 51, stating he is healthy and unashamed of having a disease that has long been stigmatized.

Charlie Sheen

Two and a Half Men actor Charlie Sheen publicly revealed his HIV-positive status in 2015 after years of paying millions of dollars in hush money.

While on NBC morning talk show Today, he revealed that he had known of his condition for four years, but was unsure of how he contracted it. Despite grappling with the difficulty of accepting his diagnosis, he bravely decided to come clean and stated that he no longer pays such money to finally escape all the “shakedowns.”  –

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