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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

I Can't Do It Alone

June 2, 2011

William Brawner and family

At just 18-months-old, I had to undergo a blood transfusion following abuse I'd suffered at the hands of a family friend. The transfusion was successful and I survived, but a few months later my mother learned that the donor whose blood I received had recently died from GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency) -- the original name for HIV. The doctor explained to her that there was no cure for this little-known disease and I probably didn't have much longer to live. Four years later my mother received a phone call informing her that treatment for my condition was finally available. After that call, she revealed to me for the first time that I was HIV positive. Even though I didn't understand what that meant, I could tell that it was something that hurt my mother very deeply. In order to protect her feelings, I kept my emotions bottled up for years and suffered in silence.

When I turned 12, I attended my first support group meeting and finally had the opportunity to share what I was going through, from the horrible medications I had to take to the debilitating side effects that were keeping me up at night. For years that support group was the only place where I felt comfortable opening up about my experience living with HIV. Outside of that space, I was energetic, charming, handsome Billy, and I never discussed my disease status. This worked for a while, but things got complicated when I started to become attracted to girls. Because of my reluctance to disclose my HIV status, I didn't become sexually active until I turned 18. When I finally revealed my status to my girlfriend at the time she handled the news well. We were together for an entire year after that and broke up on what seemed like good terms soon after I left for college. But two years later the president of my university called to inform me that the school had received an anonymous letter alerting them to my HIV status. I knew immediately that my ex-girlfriend was behind it, because she was the only person I'd ever told. It took years of counseling and prayer to recover from that betrayal. When I finally built the courage to disclose again, a lot of people insisted that I "had to be gay" because they didn't believe that a heterosexual could live with HIV as long as I had and be in such good shape. After a while it seemed like those I encountered were more interested in debating my sexuality than learning about the disease. What people fail to realize is that heterosexual black men make up a large portion of those infected with HIV in our country. Unfortunately, many of these men don't disclose their HIV status for fear of being labeled and their silence is killing our community.

Because of my experience, I've dedicated my life to the fight against HIV/AIDS, but I can't do it alone. It's time for other HIV positive straight black men to take responsibility and stand up in this fight as well.

William Brawner, 30, is the Founder & Executive Director of Haven Youth Center, a non-profit, providing services to HIV-positive youth in Philadelphia, PA.

More From This Resource Center

Magic Johnson Wants You to Know: He Isn't Cured of HIV

Living With HIV? African Americans Share Their Advice

This article was provided by The Black AIDS Institute. It is a part of the publication Black AIDS Weekly. Visit Black AIDS Institute's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

See Also
More Personal Accounts of Heterosexual Men With HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: sue (uk) Wed., Mar. 18, 2015 at 5:34 pm UTC
Just watched your documentary William, I admire your courage in coming forward, you are an inspiration to all those who have been stigmatised because of the AIDS virus. I hope your life and your family continued to be blessed.
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Comment by: andrena (philadelphia pa) Fri., Jan. 4, 2013 at 1:26 pm UTC
hey you! Thanks for sharing!!! Nice to see you around these here parts! Hope you and your family are well, and that your New Years is amazing! (former Ryan White Planning Council member)...
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Comment by: Victoria (Phila., Pa) Mon., Mar. 5, 2012 at 12:22 am UTC
Every time I read anything pertaining to HIV/AIDS I think of Mr William Brawner who introduced me to the disease. He's taught me a lot and he's very inspirational...its definitely been a pleasure working with him, his friends and family.
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Comment by: Ricardo (Spain ) Tue., Jul. 26, 2011 at 11:30 am UTC
Interesting history and awesome willpower to face such a illness as AIDS is. I want to share with you five testimonies from people who are infected with HIV. Hope you like it. Regards!
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Comment by: Justin B Terry-Smith (Laurel, MD) Thu., Jun. 16, 2011 at 10:56 am UTC
William BRAVO man. I hope your story reaches others. I really respect your courage. Keep up the good work.

Justin B Terry-Smith
Justin's HIV Journal
Author of HIV children's book, "I Have A Secret"
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Comment by: SAINT BOY (NIGERIA) Tue., Jun. 14, 2011 at 7:06 am UTC
My woman is testing positive and she is pregnant.. what can i do ...
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Comment by: Rick (North Carolina) Mon., Jun. 13, 2011 at 12:49 am UTC
Thank you for making your story public. Please continue to stand up and tell people that you are a black heterosexual man who is HIV positive. Alot of people (especially in the black community) seem to think that AIDS only happens to gay men. Your action of informing people of the fact that heterosexuals also have AIDS is saving lives. Thank you for doing this.
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Comment by: Gilbert (Montreal.Canada) Fri., Jun. 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm UTC
Your strenght and devotion is heartwarming, keep up the fight.
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Comment by: louna (NEW YORK) Fri., Jun. 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm UTC
wow im happy you out here telling us this because not ever one understand what people going thro.

keep your head up god is with you.
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Comment by: chalmers m. (woodstock ga) Thu., Jun. 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm UTC
I so admire your courage and hope all the blessings of life will come to you and your Institute. Aids is a horrendous disease and has taken friends of mine...this diease is no one's fault least of all God' I hope you are able to continue to spread the word about the bias connected to this disease and people will come to a better understanding that this disease can affect anyone victims and their prayers are with you.
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