Ask Rene:
Do I Tell My Friend Her Son Has HIV? 


Hey, Rene,

I have an issue and I would love some advice please. My brother has a non-profit agency that offers HIV/AIDS testing and education. Well, I was over there when the son of a friend came in and got tested. Rene, he found out he’s HIV positive! This baby is just 19-years-old and his mom, my friend since junior high school, doesn’t even know he’s gay. My question to you is this; do I tell her or encourage him to sit down and talk to her?

Sign me:

Carrying A Heavy Burden


Dear Carrying:

I’m so sorry to hear that about your friend’s son. As I see it, there are two issues: one, the HIV diagnosis and two, whether you should say anything to your friend. So here are a few thoughts and what I would do if I were you.


Katie Tegtmeye

Creative Commons/Katie Tegtmeye

As we know, HIV is very serious; prompt and proper treatment is a must. But as much as your heart aches for all parties involved, it’s really not your place to say anything. Frankly, I’m more than a little curious about how you found out and I think he and his mother would be too; it sounds like someone may have violated confidentiality laws. Secondly, think about how this might go down; you’re going to break the news to your friend that her son is gay and has HIV. That’s a lot to put on someone who may or may not be ready to hear it, even though I’d be a little surprised if she didn’t know. If she’s not ready to hear that, she may lash out at you, even though you’re coming from a place of caring and concern.

Read more:  ASK RENE: IS MY SON GAY?


Creative Commons/Jonathan Taphouse

I’m not sure what kind of relationship you have with this young man, but perhaps you can talk to him. Even then, I’d be very careful. Again the sticking point is, unless the young man told you himself or you were notified by the doctor or other health official, you’re not supposed to know his status. Telling him that your brother saw him come into the clinic and then shared with you his HIV status (if he was the one who told you) feels all kinds of icky and possibly illegal. Your brother probably did so because he was worried, but he may have put his non-profit agency and the good work they’re doing in jeopardy by disclosing this. Who’s going to want to come get tested if it’s going to be put on the streets, no matter how well-intentioned?

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Creative Commons/Moyan_Brenn

Beyond those two points, I think  you might want to talk to your brother and, along with a gentle reminder to keep some things quiet, ask him what he would advise. It’s possible he’s been in this situation before and could reach out and counsel the boy himself.

The only other thing you can do is be a friend to your friend. Do what friends do and take an active, caring role in her life. She might know her son is gay and want to talk to you about it. If she does, you can talk about the importance of safe sex (which is for everyone, gay or straight) without disclosing what you know. She’s lucky to have you in her life.

Read more: Friends ‘Til The End: The Three Things You Can Count On

Good luck to you!


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Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on December 12, 2012