It’s estimated that there are over 56,000 new cases of HIV every year in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s equal to transmission every 9.5 minutes.

Yet stigma and discrimination continue to obstruct access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services. This, in turn, has been linked to low levels of testing and treatment adherence, especially among young people.

While raising awareness and funding educational efforts and research are all imperative to destigmatizing HIV — not to mention moving one step further toward finding a cure — some people take matters into their own hands through body art. Tattoos allow those with the disease to raise awareness, educate, and show they’re not ashamed of their diagnosis.

Check out some of the inspiring HIV and AIDS tattoo designs our readers submitted, below:

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“I’m negative, but as a 57-year-old gay man, little has dominated my life’s experience more than HIV. When I began doing the AIDS/LifeCycle, the monumental effect HIV had on me began to surface for me. One of the ways I have dealt with this is to have this tattoo done. It contains the names of my dearest dead friends, the years I have done the AIDS LifeCycle, my bike, the flowers we see along the way, and the Golden Gate Bridge — a symbol of the refuge that San Francisco has been.” — Evan

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“My first tattoo after I completed my first AIDS/LifeCycle.” — Tim

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“I have been living with HIV for 24 years. I had a baby, who is negative, six years after my diagnosis. Because my father had very incorrect views regarding who gets HIV, I hid my HIV status. When he developed dementia, I was set free to be open about my status. My tattoo is located on the inner aspect of my left ankle. Easily visible to ME, the intended viewer. This tattoo offers me a chance to open a dialogue with people about HIV. If I can help educate just one person per week about HIV, that would make me very happy.” — Xio Mora-Lopez

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“My name is Alon Madar and I’m an HIV activist in Israel. I got the tattoo after attending the LIVING2012 conference for PLHIV and AIDS organized by GNP+. Being surrounded by others — strangers actually — who share the same passion for HIV and AIDS activism as I do, left me deeply empowered. I wanted to remember that experience as a personal milestone, so I used the red ribbon with a dot on top to signify the conference logo and also to signify the pronoun ‘I.’ The letters ‘a’ and ‘m’ signify my initials. Even though it isn’t clearly stated, the message is clear to the viewer: I am positive.” — Alon Madar

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“I got my tattoo on my lower ankle in the year 2000, 10 years after my diagnosis. This was on a T-shirt from a HIV retreat I attended and I thought it would make a great tat: Do Not Fear to Hope.” — Nancy D.

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“I got this to commemorate completing the AIDS/LifeCycle ride in California… I did the ride to give HIV the finger and to help give back for all the help I’ve received since my diagnosis.” — Hayes Colburn

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“My inspiration for my tattoo was my aunt and the end of a romantic relationship. My aunt worked for the Red Cross for many years and was my rock when I found out about my status. My ex was a paramedic and the black line marked the end of the relationship. They both played such major parts in my growth not only as a man, but as an HIV activist. I love telling my story and they gave me my voice.” — Cody Hall

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“This tattoo is my tribute to my brother who passed away in 2006. It is also a tribute to my mom who I lost to breast cancer in 1988. So it is a combo pink and red ribbon with angel wings and a halo.” — Shawn Schmitz


Emily Rekstis is a New York City-based beauty and lifestyle writer who writes for many publications, including Greatist, Racked, and Self. If she’s not writing at her computer, you can probably find her watching a mob movie, eating a burger, or reading a NYC history book. See more of her work on her website, or follow her on Twitter.