I used to be once labeled the “accidental activist.” I had no real plan or vision when I made a decision to share my HIV status on my social pages back in 2018 – I just let my fingers do the talking after a jolly Friday afternoon pleased hour with friends at an LA bar.
After a couple of rounds of vodka martinis and an image that was taken by a friend of me wearing a t-shirt from the web social account The AIDS Memorial (through which I believed, for once, I looked, somewhat okay) I made a decision to post my personal story to my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Most of my close friends knew at that time that I had been living with HIV for nearly ten years, and out of doors of that universe, who would really care? Sure, I used to be sometimes on K-ABC in Los Angeles through their entertainment brand “On The Red Carpet”, but outside that, nobody cared who I used to be or watched what I did… or so I believed.
Overnight my story went viral.
Minutes before I made a decision to speak openly on social media about my status, my best friend implored me to “not do anything silly” as he closed the door of my apartment and left for the night. Little did I do know that by speaking my truth, the following morning all of the world would know my business! Headlines from publications like The Hollywood Report stated “ABC Correspondent Reveals He’s HIV Positive”. The Daily Mail was quick to inform everyone, “ABC red carpet reporter, 37 reveals he’s HIV positive.”
My story went national.
Friends across the country within the news business didn’t understand why this was even a news story. Frankly, neither did I – I mean who am I? But to my friends not living with HIV, the query was why is HIV still relevant? Don’t you simply pop a couple of pills and also you’re done with it? HIV hasn’t been an enormous story for the reason that advent of ARVs. Before that, it fit perfectly into the mantra of “if it bleeds, it leads.” But with good therapies it just wasn’t, dare I say, “sexy?”
The silence surrounding HIV and lack of expertise was so profound that it took me sharing my HIV status to find out about Undetectable Equals Untransmittable! If I used to be virally suppressed to the purpose that I used to be “undetectable” then I presented ZERO transmission risk to a sexual partner. I had lived with HIV for nearly 10 years at that time. I used to be educated. I went to the perfect doctors and yet, I had no idea what U=U was. Those two data points lit a lightbulb in my head.
I wasn’t trying to develop into a “voice” within the HIV/AIDS fight. But my revelation sparked a discussion about HIV. In a couple of short months my life would go from being an “ABC red carpet reporter” to the “accidental activist” on the duvet of major LGBTQIA publications, talking about it nationally on ABC and NBC. And then it went away – but I knew it shouldn’t / wouldn’t / couldn’t. That’s why I created +LIFE media – to maintain the conversation going and to fight stigma.
Fast forward a couple of years… Plus Life Media, or Plus Life because it’s now known, is a recognized go to brand online for people living with, people inquisitive about, or individuals who know someone who’s directly impacted by HIV. We seek advice from EVERYONE about HIV. What it means to live with HIV, what an HIV diagnosis looks like, how you’ll be able to protect yourself against HIV and most significantly, to indicate that world that simply because someone my have those three letters and a logo next to their name, it doesn’t mean that life is over. That the flexibility to like, or have sex or smile or be ok with yourself doesn’t end with a diagnosis. In fact, if anything, perhaps HIV might be something that helps you switch your life around and helps you begin living the life that you just were destined to live; with grace, humility, humor, compassion, love and another feel good adjective you throw on the market.
Over the last twelve months or so, I’ve come to comprehend that being an accidental activist can put a goal in your back. Stepping out, speaking up, and living your truth with the hope that it encourages others to take a moment and consider what HIV means at the moment, might be met with a wave of anger, jealousy, and hostility that this “accidental” activist wasn’t ready for. And it isn’t just from outside the “community” of those living with HIV and fighting against stigma. I feel it from contained in the community as well.
At one fundraising event, the top of one other media company introduced themselves as “the enemy.” I used to be shocked, there are not any enemies within the fight against HIV stigma because we’re all (or needs to be) on this together.
When we (and I mean that as a collective of people who find themselves living with HIV) are all fighting for the very same goal, I don’t understand where the attacks, the hatred, the vitriol comes from. Aren’t all of us working towards the identical thing?
I go searching and see different groups of individuals living with HIV, fighting for pieces of the pie and I ponder, can’t all of us sit and share it equitably?
Those who’ve passed through trauma know that no two traumas can or needs to be compared. My trauma is deeply wounding to me as yours is to you and people wounds don’t should be compared. But they might be healed if we stand together.
Instead of accusing one another of wrongdoing or missteps and kicking while someone is down– let’s assist to those that trip, let’s educate those that misspeak, let’s fight ignorance with knowledge. Let’s discover a option to be one community standing together to fight as one.
Let’s come together and take all of the things that make us different, special, unique, indignant, passionate and use them as a concentrated force to finish HIV stigma, to push for medical equity for all and to speak about what it means to be living with HIV during this time.
Imagine, if we took all that negative energy and turned it right into a joint task force that continued to push for reform, social justice, equality, and education what we could achieve now. Fuck waiting for 2030 or any of those sexy timeline goals.
Many people, including the good Elton John, have said again and again… and over…. we’ve the tools to finish HIV right away!