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HIV Activists Talk About Receiving Their Diagnosis -- and What They Did Next

June 9, 2017

This year's AIDSWatch conference in Washington, D.C., was a great opportunity to ask diverse folks with HIV how they got "the news" -- and how they turned a bad day into a lifetime of advocacy.

The main point of the annual AIDSWatch meetup in Washington, D.C., is for HIV-positive folks from all over the nation to visit the offices of their elected officials on Capitol Hill to make a personal case for funding for HIV/AIDS programs such as the Ryan White CARE Act, Medicaid and Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA).

But it's also a great opportunity to meet activist-advocates from all over the nation, everyone from gay white male longtime survivors to a fierce new generation of transgender advocates of color.

At this year's AIDSWatch in late March, we asked a diverse group of participants about when and how they found out they were HIV-positive ... and how they turned their diagnosis into a springboard for activism.

Recalls Jazelle: "I said, 'I am human; I do love myself,' so I started advocating at a very young age, saying, 'Guess what? You're gonna treat me like I'm human.'" Jesse remembers how his doctor said to him, "Jesse, I'm not gonna let you die." Mia relates how her diagnosis actually diverted her from suicide because it connected her to Medicaid and Ryan White support, not just for her HIV but also for her depression. "It's been a long journey," she says frankly, "and I'm glad I'm here." And Teresa talks about family members who died from AIDS-related causes prior to her own diagnosis.

They also had plenty of great tips on how we can take care of ourselves, because we all know that living out loud with HIV isn't a sprint: It's a marathon! Derrick relates how "being able to listen to music" at home is important to him, plus hanging out with friends and "being stupid and silly." He adds: "I love the moment when I get to tell someone else, 'I also have HIV. I'm also a long-term survivor.'" And Mia says: "You have the ability to choose to either mope -- or flip the page and say, 'I'm no longer a victim. I'm a survivor.'"

Tim Murphy has been living with HIV since 2000 and writing about HIV activism, science and treatment since 1994. He writes for and has been a staffer at POZ, and writes for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Out Magazine, The Advocate, Details and many other publications. He is also the author of the NYC AIDS-era novel Christodora.

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