For most, an HIV or AIDS diagnosis is difficult to manage without social support and healthy coping strategies. One place that people living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA) may turn to for supportive resources is the church. Although churches are located in virtually every town in the United States, with many providing resources for the marginalized within their communities, resources for PLWHA are not as common. The church also may be a place avoided by PLWHA due to the stigma often associated with HIV or AIDS by these communities. Currently, little is known about the relationship between church communities and PLWHA. Even less is known about the relationship between HIV or AIDS, stigma, and disclosure within these communities. This research project will explore three issues - the stigma experiences of PLWHA within church communities;the influence of stigma on disclosure behaviors within these communities;and the role that these communities, as well as their belief systems, play in the daily lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. This study is uniquely designed to assess the perspective of PLWHA, as well as the perspective of church members who are not infected with HIV or AIDS. A qualitative approach consisting of interviews with PLWHA and area church members will be employed for data collection. The interviews will focus on stigma experiences and disclosure behaviors of PLWHA, as well as opinions about the church's role in serving the HIV or AIDS community and the hurdles that must be overcome to increase their involvement. Combined, these data will provide key insights into the relationship between stigma, disclosure, and HIV or AIDS in the church, which will aid in developing faith-based HIV interventions that increase the quality of life for PLWHA.
Understanding stigma experiences of people living with HIV or AIDS will improve efforts to develop effective interventions and provide supportive resources for PLWHA. The church is an organization that is positioned well to address these needs with its global presence and universal mission of serving others;however, the barriers to such support must first be identified to better understand how such an approach can be successfully executed.