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Bob Poe, a Democratic candidate running for an open U.S. House of Representatives seat in Florida, revealed on Thursday that he is HIV positive. If elected, Poe would be the first openly HIV-positive member of Congress — a huge step forward in the struggle of HIV-positive Americans to gain acceptance and break down lingering stigma.

In an emotional video posted to Facebook, Poe revealed that he was diagnosed with HIV 18 years ago, though until now had only shared the diagnoses with a few close friends and family. He decided to share his status publicly in response to an emotional interaction he had with a woman who was recently diagnosed.

“She thought she had a death sentence,” he said. “I told her that she didn’t, and I even shared with her where she could go get the resources that she needed. But I really just wanted to hug her and let her know that she wasn’t alone because I too had HIV, but I was still hung up in the fear and the stigma that surrounds this condition.”

“So now it’s time to come out and share this with you publicly, so that we can begin to have this discussion and remove the fear and the stigma and the shame that goes with this. Because its those things that keep people from getting the diagnoses and the treatment that they need to live perfectly healthy lives, like I have,” he added.

Like the woman Poe encountered, may Americans still assume an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence — a misconception lingering from the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when the virus was spreading rapidly and doctors had little idea how to treat it. Decades later, many people still have misconceptions about how the virus spreads, and about the relationship between HIV and AIDS. In 2015, national polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 34 percent of Americans still believe at least one myth about HIV transmission — such as believing HIV can be spread by sharing a swimming pool or drinking glass with people who are infected.

These misconceptions feed a continued reluctance to integrate HIV-positive individuals with others. They also fuel a persistent stigma and shame among people who have the virus, which research shows can dissuade people from seeking treatment or getting diagnosed — thus making the disease harder to fight.

“We’ve got to rip the mask off this thing and begin talking about it in a sensible way,” Poe said in an interview with Watermark Magazine. “This is a chronic condition that is more easily treated than diabetes.”

According to the CDC, more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV infection. Almost 12.8 percent of those living with the virus don’t know they have it, and in Florida, the state Poe is seeking to represent, the infection rate is higher than it’s been since 2008.

With his revelation, Poe hopes to both break down some of the harmful stereotypes around the disease, and bring it back into the mainstream conversation to spur scientific progress toward a cure.

“Our goal should be to eliminate AIDS as an epidemic by the year 2025,” he told Watermark. “We are close to finding a vaccine or cure, but that’s going to require additional investment. It won’t happen if everybody is in the shadows.”