Monica Johnson is from the small town of Columbia, Louisiana, but you may recognize her from the gripping HIV-focused documentary deepsouth. Her organization, HEROES, like many other small and struggling rural agencies, serves people living with HIV who might otherwise not have anywhere else to go.
After Monica became HIV positive through a blood transfusion in the early 1980s, she gave birth to an HIV-positive baby boy who passed away at a young age. Throughout his life and hers, she has faced the gamut of HIV stigma: Her son was asked not to attend school with other children, and Monica was asked to leave her town. She told them she wouldn't go.
To read or watch Monica's interview, click here.
When David tested positive in 1997, he was utterly shocked: He was confident that he had used condoms with his partners over the years. But when he put two and two together, he realized that he had been drugged and raped one night, and as a result of that sexual assault, he had contracted HIV. This openly-gay executive director of an HIV/AIDS service organization talks about his struggles with drugs and alcohol after his diagnosis; the obstacles he faces while doing prevention work in his rural Pennsylvania town; and how working in the HIV/AIDS field has changed his life.
To read or watch David's interview, click here.
At 20, Tree thought he had it all -- a wonderful job in Chicago and a loving boyfriend -- until the shocking news: He and his partner were both HIV positive. Barely out of his teens, Tree had to grow up fast, educate himself about a disease he knew very little about and seek treatment despite having no health insurance. This blogger, public speaker and AIDS advocate discusses the importance of adhering to medications, never giving up hope and educating his peers.
To read or watch Tree's interview, click here.
In the late '80s, James, a heterosexual former Navy soldier living in rural Mississippi, believed what most Americans thought at that time: HIV was a gay white male disease. But James tested positive in the summer of 1987, and quickly realized that this epidemic affected everyone. Instead of choosing to live in silence about his status, he decided to speak out and educate his community. This father and AIDS advocate candidly talks to us about the difficulty of being one of the first African-American men to test positive in his county; the stigma and discrimination that faces people living with HIV in the South; and why he never grows tired of talking about HIV.
To read or watch James' interview, click here.
If you have seen an 18-wheel truck with a huge condom on the side driving through your town, then you may have seen Marco Benjamin. Diagnosed with HIV at 27 while working at an architectural firm, Marco left that job within a year to pursue a life of HIV activism, and hasn't looked back since.
To read or watch Marco's interview, click here.
At 21, Dee not only received an HIV diagnosis, but came out as a transgender woman, struggled with drug addiction and survived a breakup with her boyfriend. Thankfully, with the help of support groups and friends, she was able to overcome it all. In this inspiring interview, Dee talks about living and surviving HIV as a transgender woman; her parents' journey to accepting her for who she is; and the importance of speaking out about HIV/AIDS.
To read or watch Dee's interview, click here.
In 1997, Richard contracted HIV through unprotected sex in an extramarital affair with a man. Despite his infidelity and diagnosis, he and his loving wife of 30 years, Jodi, stayed together and their relationship persevered. In 2002, the couple was dealt another blow when Richard was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only two to four years to live. Thankfully, he battled back, and the couple talks to us about the importance of love and forgiveness, being in a serosdiscordant relationship, and the foundation they started to support AIDS orphans in Africa.
To read or watch Richard's interview, click here.
Timothy Brown, the first person in the world to be cured of HIV, is soft-spoken and kind -- but unswerving in his dedication to finding a way to cure everyone. Watch Timothy open up about the joys and frustrations of being the famed "Berlin Patient."
To read or watch Timothy's interview, click here.
In 1990, like most of society, Efrain, then 25 years old, believed that HIV was not a heterosexual man's issue -- until he tested positive. Because stigma was so staunch, he only disclosed to his immediate family, refused to date and lived in silence about his diagnosis for five years. It wasn't until 1995 that he found the courage to disclose to others. And once he did, his life completely turned around for the better. This Bronx native talks about the importance of having a strong support system; how HIV/AIDS work changed his life; and how his wife and her children have given him the family he never thought he would have.
To read or watch Efrain's interview, click here.
In 2000, Anthony, a 19-year-old immigrant from Chile, discovered he was HIV positive. With an initial CD4 count of 4, he was given only six months to live. Anthony's partner, Frank, was diagnosed in 2007. He had been living a party lifestyle after a long year of heartbreak and financial frustration. Anthony and Frank tell us about their experiences living with HIV; how they met and fell in love; and how they cope with the cultural stigma they both face for being positive and gay.
To read or watch Frank and Anthony's interview, click here.
Brenda embodies the term "survivor." This mother of four, recovering crystal meth addict and sexual abuse survivor did not allow for her 2003 HIV diagnosis to stop her from living. In fact, she used it as a means to stop using drugs, regain custody of her children and become an AIDS activist in Salt Lake City.
To read or watch Brenda's interview, click here.
Though it happened in 1986, Tommy Chesbro remembers his HIV diagnosis -- and the circumstances that led to it -- like it was yesterday. This Oklahoma resident and U.S. Midwest native recalls the moments leading up to his diagnosis and explains how he came to terms with HIV, disclosed to his parents and began publicly speaking about HIV in the heavily stigmatized U.S. heartland. As a son of two mixed-race parents, Tommy also talks about how his part-Native American, part-African American, part-Caucasian heritage played a critical role in his upbringing and his life.
To read or watch Tommy's interview, click here.
As a transgender Asian woman and a formerly incarcerated violence survivor who was also involved with sex work, her experience is connected to a number of groups that are vulnerable to HIV in ways that are often ignored by institutions. But Cecilia's real-life story is much more than a confirmation of statistics. In this interview, she opens up about her history with assault; how transitioning affected her former career in finance; her tips on dating; and her frustration at being an overachiever with a low T-cell count.
To read or watch Cecilia's interview, click here.
In 1991, when Patricia's then-boyfriend called her from prison and told her that she needed to be tested for HIV, she was completely stunned. Living in a small town in Michigan, Patricia didn't know anyone else who was positive and she instantly thought she was going to die. But with the help of her local HIV service organization, Patricia found the support, information and solace that she needed. This AIDS advocate and mother of one talks openly about how stigma has deeply affected her relationships with family and friends; her ongoing struggle to ensure that fear does not control her life; and how the HIV/AIDS work that she does in her community makes her happy.
To read or watch Patricia's interview, click here.
Being diagnosed in 1986 in San Francisco -- the epicenter of the epidemic at that time -- Robert Cohen was convinced that he was going to die. He watched so many of his friends pass away, yet he stayed healthy and undetectable over the years, not knowing why. Then in 2000, Cohen was told that he was a long-term nonprogressor and an elite controller -- an extremely rare group of people living with HIV for many years who have not yet experienced a severe loss of CD4 cells.
To read or watch Robert's interview, click here.
Richard Cordova, a 33-year-old gay man from Chicago, was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2002 -- which did not surprise him, since he had been living a life of hard partying, heavy drug use and unprotected sex at the time. He came across an opportunity for a clean break and ran away with it -- literally.
To read or watch Richard's interview, click here.
When Ron tested positive in jail back in 1991, he wasn't surprised. Being an injection drug user who was sharing needles, he knew he was at risk. Yet, being diagnosed in a time when AZT was the only medication available, Ron never lost hope nor has he allowed an AIDS diagnosis to stop him from giving back and educating Nashville's African-American community about HIV.
To read or watch Ron's interview, click here.
Falling in love when you have HIV is terrain that can be very hard to map. Whether it's with our family or in a romantic relationship, love is a central motivator in so many of our lives, and Andrea de Lange's journey of love is a lesson for us all.
Andrea has come a long way since her initial diagnosis. She has repaired several family relationships through education, and turned down an appearance on Oprah. After dealing with several partners, including a former husband, who never made her feel quite right regarding her HIV status, she met and fell in love all over again with a childhood friend at their high school reunion. Now, she sees that being in love and feeling "normal" all start with the ability to love yourself and recognize that you deserve someone who loves you for you, HIV and all.
To read or watch Andrea's interview, click here.
Marcia Dorsey had done everything expected of her growing up. She received a good education, got a good job, never drank or did drugs; and she stayed in one monogamous relationship for many years. After being diagnosed with HIV, she first asked herself, "Why me?" But then, after educating herself about the disease, she began to say, "Well, why not me?"
To read or watch Marcia's interview, click here.
When Sharon, 47, was diagnosed with HIV in 1989, like many other people, she thought HIV was a gay white man's disease, thus she knew nothing about the disease. To make matters worse, during this time, there were very few resources for women living with HIV -- Sharon felt completely alone and lived in denial for years. This recovering addict, mother of three and out lesbian talks about her journey to sobriety, coming to terms with being HIV positive and how she started to love herself again.
To read or watch Sharon's interview, click here.
When Lolisa got tested for HIV in 2004, she was certain that she was HIV negative. So when her results came back positive, she was utterly shocked. It was a lot for a 17-year-old to take in, but the more she learned about HIV, the more she didn't let her diagnosis stop her from living. Lolisa, a proud mother of a baby boy, talks to us about coping with her diagnosis, becoming an HIV educator/public speaker, and being in a mixed-status relationship with a man.
To read or watch Lolisa's interview, click here.
"It became actually my career, what I wanted to be, and do," says Jeffery A. Haskins of the AIDS work he's been involved with since the epidemic's earliest days. His path was not always so clear -- he'd studied business, accounting and theater management, and when an accountant position opened up at the newly formed Minority Task Force on AIDS, his journey began. But that journey was not simply as an activist, but as an activist of color -- part of a group often overlooked in histories of early AIDS activism -- and, by 1993, as a person living with HIV himself.
Here, Jeffery talks about how early AIDS activists organized, particularly those based in Harlem at the time; and how his role as a pastor deeply informs his life with HIV and his quest for justice. Along the way, he also talks about being an artist, how theater helped him to express himself, and how he and his family evolved together in their understanding of his sexuality and HIV diagnosis.
To read or watch part one of Jeffery's interview, click here.
Jeffery A. Haskins was kept alive by some pretty toxic early HIV med regimens; now he's willing to try any of the several one-pill-a-day regimens available to help keep his viral load undetectable. As a long-term survivor, however, he's interested not only in his own health, but the ways people living with HIV can come together and demand greater health for their community.
Whether it's competition for vital prevention dollars or lifting the federal ban on syringe exchange, he knows the challenges that are real in public health today. In this interview, Jeffery touches upon all of these topics, as well as how his spiritual health has helped see him through it all. And, once his work in HIV is done, expect to see a film about his experiences and the struggles of those like him.
To read or watch part two Jeffery's interview, click here.
When Wanda was diagnosed with HIV in 1995, she was completely shocked; she thought she had always practiced safer sex. Like many people who are newly diagnosed, fear began to take over. But instead of letting that fear consume her, she educated herself about HIV and eventually became an activist lobbying in Albany, N.Y., on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. This mother of one talks about the loneliness of being positive and working in corporate America, the importance of securing housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, and why the AIDS community can never give up hope.
To read the entire transcript of Wanda's interview, click here.
After 31 years of separation from her ex-husband, Ralph, Ronda Hodges reunited with her ex and they became engaged to be remarried. At a routine check-up, they were both diagnosed with HIV, and Ralph passed away six months later. Now, at 50 years old, Ronda is starting her life over as a divorced mother, an HIV advocate and a single woman.
To read or watch Ronda's interview, click here.
Raymond was born with HIV. At age 4, he suffered a stroke that left him paraplegic. He didn't realize he had HIV until 1992, when he was only 12 years old. And as if that was not difficult enough, he was reeling from his mother's death and struggling with his sexuality as a gay youth. But he persevered. Raymond talks to us about his incredible journey, the hardships of being different, the pressures of dating, and the things he does to combat HIV stigma and educate others who may also feel out of place.
To read or watch Raymond's interview, click here.
Archbishop Joyce Turner Keller, 60, never thought that HIV would ever happen to her -- she was a "good Christian" woman who devoted her life to her family, community and church. But then everything changed when she was raped and later diagnosed with AIDS. This advocate and grandmother of three discusses why giving up was never an option, the dire importance of educating the faith community about the epidemic; and her own non-profit for young people, Aspirations.
To read or watch Joyce's interview, click here.
In 1985, Patricia, who was a 31-year-old injection drug user, learned that she was HIV positive while serving time in a South Carolina women's correctional facility. Convinced that she was going to die because her doctor told her as much, Patricia hid the fact that she was positive and spiraled deeply into her drug use. This mother of three and recovering addict talks to us about her 20-year journey in and out of the prison system; overcoming the cultural stigma that stopped her from seeking the mental health help that she needed; and the relief and peace that being able to disclose her HIV status has brought her.
To read or watch Patricia's interview, click here.
Jake Ketchum got his HIV diagnosis in 1998 at a routine check-up right before the birth of his daughter -- and it was a big surprise. His then fiancée, Becky, was there to support him, and he claims to this day that his daughter saved his life and continues to motivate him to fight. Jake's dating pool prior to his marriage had included men; it was no different after he and Becky divorced, but now dating meant facing disclosure.
To read or watch Jake's interview, click here.
Gil Kudrin grew up with HIV -- he was diagnosed in the early '80s at only 18 years old -- and has outlived many of his peers. At 53 years old, he has marched with ACT UP, helped found Nightsweats & T-Cells (which employs HIV-positive people and gives them work skills and experience) and has raised two young, homeless boys as his own sons.
To read or watch Gil's interview, click here.
After a relationship with an IV drug user, Tyrone became HIV positive and started becoming a voice for all people living with HIV -- gay, straight, man, woman and otherwise -- in his nation. He announced his status and sexuality over the radio, he does education and prevention work among incarcerated Native Americans, and now that he also drives the van that shuttles his clients to doctor's appointments and other services, he doesn't sleep in late anymore, either.
To read or watch Tyrone's interview, click here.
Serodiscordant: It's not a word you hear every day. It's a relationship in which one partner is HIV positive and the other partner is negative. It's the reality for many couples out there, including Peter and Kathy McLoyd, who had been longtime friends and colleagues until 2004, when they began dating and got married -- all in the same year.
To read or watch Peter and Kathy's interview, click here.
In 2009, this mother of five was helping her youngest son settle into college when she came down with H1N1 influenza. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was also diagnosed with HIV. Her CD4 count was zero. While the doctors basically sent her home to die, Rachelle recovered with the help of medicine, support and her faith. A year later, this newly married church leader and recovering addict talks with us about cheating death, why ignorance around HIV is killing us and why she started her own group to build women's self-esteem.
To read or watch Rachelle's interview, click here.
When Patricia Nalls was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, she thought she was the only woman living with HIV. She also never believed she'd live to see her children grow up. Now a grandmother, Patricia runs an influential Washington, D.C., women's organization that began as a small support group in her living room.
To read or watch Patricia's interview, click here.
Henry Ocampo was freshly out of college. He had a good job, a loving relationship and a new sense of freedom. But at the age of 23, he was diagnosed with HIV and told his CD4 count was perilously low. This news came as a shock: Not only did he work in HIV prevention, but he always played it safe with his then-boyfriend, who was positive. Henry talks to us about living with HIV for the past 15 years; the stigma around being Filipino, gay and positive; and letting go of the fear of dying early.
To read or watch Henry's interview, click here.
Nicole Price switched from condoms to birth control as a form of pregnancy prevention with her long-time boyfriend, thinking that HIV was something that happened to "other people." After they broke up, he got sick, and she discovered that they were both HIV positive.
To read or watch Nicole's interview, click here.
Christopher Quarles tested HIV positive after he noticed the person with whom he was in a relationship dodging questions about HIV status. After being positive for almost five years, and undetectable for three, Christopher left home in South Carolina because of a broken family dynamic, but knows a lot about making his own family structure. He is a member of the House of Khan in New York City's vibrant ballroom scene, and walks runway under the guidance of his mentor, Luna. He came to Manhattan barely able to afford the subway, but now enjoys an independent life with friends around him and his dog always by his side.
To read or watch Christopher's interview, click here.
Though Tonya was never mad at the father of her children for having unprotected sex outside their relationship, which led to him and then her becoming HIV positive, she does regret that their kids have lost their father. But with lots of laughter, a healthy relationship and her three teenage children, she's able to fight past "pill fatigue," find many ways to live well, and tackle the "mental challenge" of HIV head on.
To read or watch Tonya's interview, click here.
David Robertson spent of most of his college days as what he would describe as "undecided" -- but not about his major. He never categorized himself as gay or straight, and continues to defy categorization. However, he had to learn the hard way -- through an HIV diagnosis -- that you can't judge whether someone is HIV positive or HIV negative by whether or not they look healthy.
To read or watch David's interview, click here.
Michael Storm is a Latino immigrant who moved to the U.S. when he was only 8 years old. The youngest of seven kids, and with an older HIV-positive brother, he did not always feel he had the strongest support system. Though he struggled with chronic depression, he chose to ignore his mental health -- which led to an eventual mental breakdown shortly after his diagnosis in 2007.
To read or watch Michael's interview, click here.
Cedric Sturdevant, a 46-year-old gay man from Jackson, Miss., was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2005, along with his partner at the time who was told to get tested after trying to donate blood. After a scary hospital stay where he disclosed to his family, Cedric knew he wanted to get better and become a voice for those living with HIV.
To read or watch Cedric's interview, click here.
Had it not been for HIV, Tim'm West might not have made any real contributions to the world -- at least, not according to him. En route to a philosophy Ph.D. when he was diagnosed, Tim'm became HIV positive while in a monogamous relationship. After he learned he was positive, he began to pursue a career as an artist and activist.
To read or watch Tim'm's interview, click here.
Despite showing numerous symptoms related to HIV/AIDS and having multiple hospital trips, like so many others, Cassandra Whitty fell through the testing gaps, and was misdiagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Cassandra admits she never really thought that HIV could happen to her. This mother and grandmother shares her experiences grappling with her diagnosis, how disclosing made all the difference, and why being an HIV/AIDS advocate is her life's calling.
To read or watch Cassandra's interview, click here.
In 1993, after a brief stint in jail, Leslie, a recovering IV drug user, tested positive for HIV. While most people would have focused on themselves, Leslie was more concerned about having to tell his wife, Andrea, who also tested positive. The couple talks to us about how support groups helped them cope with their diagnosis; the vow they made that HIV/AIDS stops with them in their family; and how Life Support, the HBO film based on Andrea's life, has given them a larger platform from which to educate people about the epidemic.
To read or watch Leslie and Andrea's interview, click here.