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

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.

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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?

Read more:  Thanksgiving Good Enough Mother Style: Which Of These Is OFF LIMITS At The Table? (POLL)



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

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  1. Deanna Tullison

    December 12, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Rene the friend should strongly encourage…….to the young man to tell the girlfriend….with that ….I don’t think he should be the one to tell the girl…..his only stakes is mental anguish….if the girl was like a blood relative then it would be a different situation.
    I give you an example: my husband wen on a deployment a married man was affair(s) at St Kits….the active duty husband tested positive for Herpes….do you know that at the end of the deployment that man went back and didn’t tell his wife nothing….honey please!!!!! I told my hubby are you not required to tell that wife….My hubby stated: “no.”
    Now you see why the Lord doesn’t want us to have sex before the marriage ? The stuff we get ourselves into!!!!!!

  2. Margit

    December 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Good advice Rene. This is not her news to share. About a year ago a dear friend revealed he was HIV positive. We had lunch together a couple days after his test (while he was still awaiting the results.) I knew something was off with him a few days later when it hit me like a ton of bricks that he probably got the results from his test. We were in his office when he broke down and told me. By broke down I mean, he fell to the floor and starting shaking and crying which turned to anger and punching the floor, and then back again. We sat on the floor together for at least an hour. He was scared and angry. Of course he was concerned for himself, but do you know who else he was most concerned about? HIS MOM! How does he tell her? It will break her heart. At the time he was 22 years old. He’s gay, Mormon and from Utah. His mom knew he was gay, but how does he add this to that? I told him that mamas love their babies. She still loves him, and always will. He did tell his mom…in his time, when HE was ready. This is HIS disease and HIS news to share. He joined a support group which was the best thing. My friend was lucky enough to have strain of HIV that his not resistant to drugs. The disease is barely detectable now. He takes his daily meds and lives a happy, full life.
    The best thing you can do is just be there for your friend when her son does tell her. Just be a friend.

  3. Shannon S. Pritchard

    December 12, 2012 at 10:51 am

    I’d like to weigh in on the HIPAA portion of the discussion. I’m an attorney in Texas, and many times people erroneously throw out “HIPAA” as a warning/threat to friends and acquaintances when someone is discussing (maybe gossiping) about another person’s presumed, or known, medical conditions.

    While it is true that the brother that owns/manages the facility that offers the testing (and any employee) is subject to HIPAA, they are subject in terms of the transmission of the diagnosis or test results in a standard transmission structure (i.e., the information was e-mailed or faxed or mailed) to another entity, such as other health care providers, insurance companies, or employers. That is why, when you go to the doctor, they have you sign a HIPAA form that gives them permission to transmit that information on your behalf, primarily to your insurance carrier. BE CAREFUL about signing that release form, as you don’t want to accidentally sign something that could allow the information to fall into hands other than your insurance carrier, or other medical provider.

    All that said, there is still a confidentiality “privilege” that exists between the health provider and the patient. Medical professionals are not supposed to “gossip” about their patient’s medical condition, and none of their staff are supposed to release that information, as well. However, that is a situation that is not strictly covered by HIPAA, and unfortunately, it happens that information gets leaked to the general public all too often – I remind us all of the tragic fallout from the prank pulled in Great Britain regarding Duchess Kate’s recent hospitalization.

    So while I agree with Rene and others that this woman, who found out the diagnosis in some way we have not been told, should not tell the young man’s mother, I don’t know that her brother or his staff violated HIPAA. If the young man told this woman himself, no violation of either HIPAA or the confidentiality privilege. If her brother told her, due to his access of the young man’s records, he still didn’t violate HIPAA, he did violate the confidentiality privilege, and has damaged the reputation of his facility.

    I also think, unlike others on this thread, unless the young man himself told this woman of his diagnosis, she can’t talk to him, either. If he didn’t tell her himself, no matter how well-intentioned her efforts to talk about it, he will be caught off-guard that she knows, and anything she says to him in that moment will be lost in his personal reaction to the fact she knows, and those emotions could include shame, outrage, fear, and anguish.

    If the young man did tell her, then by all means use that as a way to talk to him about what he’s going through, and how he might approach his mother with this batch of information.

    Finally, my prayers to all young men and women out there dealing with HIV and struggling about how to share this information with their family and friends.

  4. F. Reese

    December 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Whoa! This is a doozie! How do I answer? I’m going to say I’m assuming the writer was visiting the brother’s nonprofit agency and happened upon her friend’s son. However, to run across vital information such as positive test results; either she has to work there or be in some kind of counseling group with they had to meet or she violated some pretty confidential rules and did some snooping. That’s neither here nor there for me to figure out. The point is, she knows. Now, I would say, leave it alone because it doesn’t sound like this information came about too charismatically. Knowing that her friend’s son tested positive for HIV and also knowing that he is gay are two different factors and I’m wondering how that additional information was happened upon, also. I’m not confronting here, I’m just saying, this is a lot of information to know about a friend’s son to then in turn say to your friend, how well do you know your son? How do you actually explain how you happened upon it all without jeopardizing your friendship? Your relationship with your brother? Your brother’s nonprofit agency & his license? Your friend’s son’s confidence in you? There is a lot at stake here. To speak with anyone, first be willing to be open enough to say how much you actually found out on “your own.” Talk to your brother about a hypothetical situation, if indeed you may not be a person who works at the organization. Spend time with your friend. Just talk in general about life, family, children, get a feel for where her head is at. Don’t pry. If she doesn’t budge, don’t push. Just because a person has been given an HIV diagnosis does not mean they have been given a death sentence. That’s part of the reason why there are agencies where your brother works at and trained counselors to help your friend’s son. It’s quite alright to be concerned, care and support them but I think if you go in with all that ammunition and no back up plan, all hell with just break loose on you.

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