Others living with HIV want to know my secret to living well with HIV for 25 years. For me, it comes down to love and support.
As the world marks World AIDS Day this month, I will mark 25 years of living and flourishing with HIV.
I say living and flourishing because I am one of the fortunate ones. I have always had excellent medical care. I have the love and support of friends and loved ones. I have a job that I am passionate about at an international development nonprofit that serves communities affected by HIV and AIDS. I get to share my experience of successfully living with HIV with people around the world, and I get to help ensure that our community has a voice and a role in the design and implementation of HIV programs to get us tested, treated and onto life-saving medications.
I clearly remember my first interview for a position as a coordinator for an HIV peer program. The interviewer, Nancy Kern at the Hawaii Department of Health, legally couldn’t ask me if I was HIV-positive. So she asked how I felt I would be able to support and relate to people living with HIV. I answered with facts and figures and talked about the importance of being compassionate and caring.
As I drove home, I realized I should have disclosed my HIV status. I picked up the phone, called Kern and shared my realization. She laughed and said, “Great, because we want to give you the job.”
I cannot imagine where I would be today if that hadn’t happened.
My work has taken me across the United States and the world. One position was in South Africa, supporting the launch of HIV treatment nationally. I met a wonderful woman, a housekeeper who wanted to know why I was halfway around the globe, and where my family was. I told her about my work and about my own HIV status. She said she wanted to take the test but was afraid, so we went together. She was positive, so we made a plan for how she would access treatment and take care of herself.
She came to me again a few months later, when her husband was seriously ill. She had gone home to her village and found him forced by his family to sleep on the dirt floor because he was covered…