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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

Shelton Jackson

January 2006

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Disclosure, Relationships and Sex

We talked a little bit about your family and how they responded and how that went for you. How do you decide whether or not to disclose your HIV status to someone?

For the longest time I went under this rule that if we weren't having sex, that was none of your business. But the more I go out and I talk to people, the more I write, the more I realize that my coming out and disclosing my HIV status empowers other people. So now it's a common thing. It's not a big thing for me to say, "Hello, my name is Shelton Jackson and I'm HIV positive." Because just by coming out and saying that, you would be surprised at how it empowers other people. My oldest son, I met him in Atlanta at a scholarship that we had both applied for and we were roommates, and that was the way I introduced myself. From that moment on, he has been looking up to me. He said to me the other day, "I can't believe that you just came out and said that to me, like it wasn't nothing." I'm like, "It's not. It's just who I am."

What is the best response you have ever gotten from telling someone?

My son's reaction. That he looked up to me and that he was proud to just call me a friend. "I can draw strength from you. You seem like a real strong person who don't take no stuff from nobody and I want to be like that."

What is the worst response?

The worst response I got was probably from the people of Baltimore. Because it's almost like an oxymoron to be black, gay and HIV positive in Baltimore. For some reason it just seemed like I was the only black gay person and then, on top of that, I was HIV positive and wasn't afraid to say it. So I have had people talk about me relentlessly, call me all kinds of names, spread rumors -- you know, "Don't talk to him, he got the package" -- block me on the computer, like they could get it through the computer. I just thought that was hilarious.

Where do you go for support?

That's when I turn to my support system, my grandmother and my friends I have elevated to the status of family. I draw all of my support from them. When I am going through something, I pick up the phone. It's weird because I was going through something this weekend, and it seems like just a year ago, I would have been the one with all the answers. Now this weekend, I was sitting there listening to my little brother and I'm like, "Okay, you're getting wiser as you grow up." So it was nice to be on the receiving end of the wisdom than to always be dishing it out.

How has your sex life changed since you become positive?

Well, for the last seven years, I was in a relationship, so it didn't make a difference. My first partner, we were together for six years ... four years of that was positive, and then he passed away, and then it got difficult. I went through the whole thing with my therapist about how to tell people my status. We did the whole role-playing thing, but when the time came for me to actually play it out, it was nothing like what we practiced. My first time going out after my first partner passed away, Thanksgiving, I met this guy and I'm like, "Oh, he's so cute ... yada, yada, yada ... I ain't had sex in a year, this should be interesting." On the way home he asked me about my HIV status. It just completely floored me because I had forgotten that I was HIV positive. I was like, "Oh, snap, I need to tell you that don't I?" And I said, "I'm HIV positive." Then I turned around and I started walking back toward the train. Then he said, "Where are you going?" I said, "That may not have messed you up, but that really messed me up. So I'm just gonna go home. You have a nice life." He stopped me, grabbed my arm, and was like, "Well, wait!" He said, "I'm sure I have had sex with people that are HIV positive, but you are just the first person who has ever told me." And that ended up being my next relationship. It lasted about a year and a half.

Have you faced much rejection from potential sex partners?

Yes. I moved to Baltimore as a single person, and like I said, just being out about my status, it is not the "in" thing to do here in Baltimore ... to let people know that you are HIV positive. So there was no sex because people were afraid of me.

How do you deal with that?

I did something that I wasn't too proud of. I stopped telling people that I was HIV positive. Then my conscience got to me. I realized that I had become one of those people that I said I would never become -- people who just go around having sex with people and don't tell them. It took me a minute, but I was like, "You know what? This is not the person I want to be." So I started telling people again. I had my little profile on the online chat things and I put a nice, big picture of my face and said I was HIV positive.

Do you have a policy about how or if you tell a sex partner that you are positive?


For me, it always has to be up-front. Now it's an up-front thing because I am at this stage in my life where if you can't deal with that, that's your issue, not my issue. I know what I look like naked -- you're the one that's trying to find out!

How do you have that conversation?

It is a straight-up thing. You meet people and people's favorite question is, "Tell me a little about yourself." I hate that question now! But it's, "I'm 28. I'm a student at Morgan. I'm a writer. I'm HIV positive." We go from there. You know, "I'm slim. I'm toned. I'm this. I'm that." But it's there from the get-go. So I know that if they can't handle it, ain't no need to waste my time.

Tell us a little bit about your partner.

[He's] also HIV positive. This is my first time dealing with a younger man. He just turned 23 on World AIDS Day. All of the guys that I've dated have been older men. Then I met this little guy and we just got along. I mean, we were like really in tune with one another. I met him and a week later he was still at my house. I wouldn't let him go home. He would go to work and I would be like, "OK, you coming back?" He finally said, "Do you like me or something? You keep inviting me back." I was like, "You know, I guess I do." He was just like, "I've never had anybody to understand me." He is a smart individual. He is a computer person, so if you put him in front of the computer, he becomes this completely different person. I've learned that when he is sitting in front of the computer, leave him alone. Because to get his attention I literally have to sit on him. Because I am an attention hog. Anything that takes his attention away from me, I have issues with.

Resolutions, Adventures and Wishes

Did you make any New Year's resolutions?

Ken and I brought in the New Year real quiet. It was just the two of us. He is my full partner in my publishing company and we were like, "It's going to be a really big endeavor, and this year is going to be big for us."

What's the biggest adventure you've ever had?

Adventure? My trip to London with my ex. It was the first time I had ever actually been overseas, and it was just beautiful to see the way other people lived, other things. I have this fascination with castles. So we got to go see all of these old castles, and I saw the Rosetta Stone and I was like, "Oh my God!" At the British Museum you see everything the British have stolen from everybody -- all their colonies. That was the first time I had real fish and chips in the little paper and everything. It was a wonderful experience.

If you were granted one wish, what would it be?

I would get real personal with that. The world has its own problems, but if I had one wish, it would be to have my father back.

What books, movies, music or TV shows have had a big influence on you?

I don't do TV. I turn my TV on for the Golden Girls and Scooby-Doo. And as far as literature, my first year at Morgan has been very enlightening. One book I got into was Invisible Man. I identified with the Invisible Man and the things that he was going through. Some of the things were stupid, but the underlying "I am invisible to everybody" just rang in my ear. That's one reason the magazine I am starting is called Invisible, because I think that the LGBT community on HBU [historically black university] campuses is just that: invisible.

Anything else you'd like the people reading this article to know about you?

People always look at me and go, "You have been through all of this and you have it all together!" But I try to let people know that HIV is a process -- a growing process. I wasn't always this strong. I wasn't always this vocal about who and what I am. There was a point where I sat in my room and I cried all day. Having to tell the doctor to take my partner off life support and then watching him die in my arms. That has a tremendous effect on you and what you do in life.

So, I don't want people to look at me and go, "This is the person I want to be," and then expect to make that change overnight. This process took seven years for me to get here. It took four years for me to say to other people that I am HIV positive. I just want people to realize that HIV is a process. It's a growing process. It is not going to happen overnight. Only you can determine how fast or how slow you go. I just want people to realize that I wasn't always this strong and I only got this way through the help of my friends, and just wanting to help other people in return.

CD4+ Count (May 2008): 150  Viral Load (May 2008): 100,000
Medications, Side Effects and Illnesses (chronologically)
April 1998: Diagnosed after two inconclusive test results
2001: Started meds -- Epivir (3TC, lamivudine) + Ziagen (abacavir) + Reyataz (atazanavir) + Viread (tenofovir) + one other (cannot remember)
2001: Lost 50 lbs. (went from 155 down to 105); diagnosed with AIDS wasting syndrome
2001: Diagnosed with ulcer of the esophagus; treated with Boot for weight gain
June 25, 2002: Partner passed away
2003: Developed resistance to Epivir
2003: Switched meds (CD4 3 / Viral load 199,000) -- Norvir (ritonavir) + Viread + Reyataz + Emtriva (emtricitabine, FTC)
November 2006: Stopped meds at CD4 638 / Viral load undetectable (stress resulted in not taking them correctly)
May 2008: Weight down to 129 lbs.; started meds -- Retrovir (zidovudine, AZT) + Emtriva + Reyataz + Norvir

I got comfortable -- too comfortable -- and started taking my good health for granted, which led me to stop taking my meds. My CD4 count and viral load went from 638 and undetectable to 150 and 100,000 in a year. I am currently fighting again to get my numbers back up and refortify myself. I see myself in the final stage of my evolution, evolving into the person that will carry out my destiny. I am not giving up because I know my struggles with HIV show others that it can be done. So, I fight the good fight and hope that others learn and grow from my struggles, my failures and my accomplishments.

Updated May 2008

Shelton Samad Jackson died on March 2, 2009. Click here for more information.

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More From This Resource Center

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

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This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also
More Personal Stories of Gay Men With HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Trent (brooklyn,ny) Sun., Mar. 7, 2010 at 1:23 pm UTC
Its been a year ,i miss you soo much...
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Comment by: Mon., Jan. 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm UTC
R.I.P SHelton
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Comment by: K. Robinson (Newark, Nj) Sat., Oct. 10, 2009 at 2:13 pm UTC
R.I.P. Shelton, I went to high school with Shelton and he was such a genuinely sweet and kindhearted person. I lost my mother from this disease at the age of 15 and have a father that has been battling this disease for more then 13 years. I truly found inspiration from Shelton, and remember take your meds, wear protection and love yourself.
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Comment by: Quadia (San Francisco, CA) Mon., Aug. 10, 2009 at 2:02 am UTC
Shelton--Rest In Peace. It's difficult to read this knowing that in the year 2009 people are still dying from aids more than twenty-five years after... I lost two brothers to AIDS. One was 33, the other was 39. That was then--there were no 'real drugs'. Note: I always call people evil. "You are just evil," or "He's evil." get it. It's like "Bitch" -- to me. I had no idea "evil" meant homosexual. I just thought it meant someone who is dangerous and just not nice--someone I want to avoid--or just a light dis...
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Comment by: ezelagbo (Nigeria) Thu., Jun. 18, 2009 at 12:58 pm UTC
Dear Nates, you can read Shelton's blog and get more information about his last days on earth you will have a clue to how he died.
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Comment by: LaRon Martin (Staten Island,New York) Tue., Jun. 2, 2009 at 12:10 am UTC
Shelton; even though it has been 3 months since your passing, I still miss you my friend. Shelton had brought so much to my life. He saw things about me that I didn't want to see. He gave me tough love about myself. I've been reading so many responses since Shelton death and I CAN BELIEVE THAT SHELTON WAS LOVED BY SO MANY PEOPLE BECAUSE HE WAS TRULY AN ANGEL FROM GOD.I can say that I NEVER met a person like Shelton before. He was truly in a class by himself. I also read other remarks about some of the choices he made in his life. No one is perfect, but you try to learn from your mistakes and hope you can teach others to try not to make those same mistakes you did. If everyone was perfect,this would be a dull world. I do commend Shelton for sharing his life, wisdom, and knowledge with people he didn't even know. Shelton in the short time that we had known one another, I am truly honored to have had you in my life. LUV YA my brother and until we meet again..... To everyone out there who is reading this, PLEASE WHAT EVER YOU DO; DON'T FORGET TO TELL YOUR LOVE ONES THAT YOU LOVE THEM BECAUSE TOMMORROW IS NOT PROMISE.
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Comment by: Mon., Jun. 1, 2009 at 11:38 pm UTC
Shelton, even though it has been almost 3 months since your passing, I miss you very much. I am so happy that a person like Shelton had entered my life. He had brought so much wisdom and honesty into my circle.
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Comment by: corey (MD) Thu., May. 21, 2009 at 9:16 am UTC
Nate: I believe shelton was not taking his hiv medications. It's a hard lesson. But if your CD4 count is low and your viral load high and you are not on hiv medications, really bad things can happen. You really have to take those medications!
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Comment by: Nate (Oakland, CA) Mon., May. 18, 2009 at 4:28 pm UTC
I recently found out I was HIV+ and found comfort and hope in reading Shelton's words. As I was reading I felt I was getting to know him. I found hope and inspiration from him. I was hoping to contact to him. Needless to say, I was shocked and deeply saddened to read at the very end of his bio that he had passed away. I don't quite understand, I thought (and had hoped) that drugs today keep people alive for a long long time. That we could live long lives. I assume Shelton passed from an HIV-related illness. Does anyone know for sure what he died of? It's strange, I have never met Shelton, but I miss him. And I know the world has lost one of the good ones. Be good and be well to you all!
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Comment by: tony (nj) Tue., Apr. 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm UTC
Had the pleasure of meeting this wonderful brother just once over dinner. This man was a difference maker. He is no longer with us, he was called Home. He will surely be missed. But his work will go on. We all need to know our status, whether straight or gay. EVERYONE!!! Please check out his works/blogs/etc and everything you might find and pass it on. We (people of color) have been in the dark way too long. It's time to embrace our brother/sisters across the board.
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Comment by: Anonymous in Pretoria SA (south africa) Wed., Apr. 15, 2009 at 10:30 am UTC
His story made me laugh a bit because I saw a bit of me in him, just disappointed that he is gay. He is so cute. Yes I am a woman and positive that is why I kept my identification cause in SA people are still not educated with this fact and there is a lot of stigma. Shelton if you not mind can i have your email address or numbers. you said something about drawing strenth from others and maybe i can draw that from you. And yes i will give you my name just not sure if i am ready for the whole word to know.
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Comment by: rui (New york) Thu., Mar. 19, 2009 at 12:04 am UTC
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Comment by: Billie (Devon - England) Sat., Mar. 14, 2009 at 4:25 pm UTC
As a hetrosexual married white lady married to a guy from Barbados and who contracted hiv 2 years ago, I would just like to say, that reading Shelton's story as inspired me to keep on at my husband who is still in denial. But mostly I would like to add this comment -- Shelton I would have loved to have known you as a friend, your hiv status would have meant nothing to me, but by reading your answers in this article about you, you were a human with so much heart, compassion and love. I know with all my heart that tonight your with our Lord and maker safely tucked up in his arms. God bless and keep you safe now forever. Never knew you, wish I had, but like your Grandmother I'd have stuck fast to your side.
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Comment by: Kia Fri., Mar. 13, 2009 at 10:02 am UTC
Rest in peace Shelton!
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Comment by: Justin B Smith (Laurel, Maryland) Mon., Mar. 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm UTC
Shelton Jackson and I met a couple times though I did not know him very well I am truly saddened about this tremendous loss that the world has suffered. I wish I could've known him better. I know he is in a better place now. I feel that I have to pick up where he left off. WE NEED TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. Education, Awareness and Prevention. We as a people need to fight HIV -- it's killing our people. Our people meaning black, white, hispanic, asian etc.

For Shelton Jackson, my friends infected and affected by this disease, who are living and dead, I fight. We will miss truly miss you spirit, soul and smile. We love you Shelton and thank you for all those you have and will touch

Justin B Smith
Justin's HIV Journal
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Comment by: Trent (Brooklyn,ny) Sun., Mar. 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm UTC
I met Shelton 5 years ago. Ever since then we were friends. I never met a person that was as caring and warm hearted as he was. His smile brightened the room as soon as he walked in. Even when work was taking a toll on me being a NYC police officer, he knew how to make me smile. My heart feels heavy and saddened ever since i learned of his passing. I miss him already, our talks on the phone or our trips to the movies but i know he's in God's arms. Shelton I love you and you'll always be with me always may god keep you.
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Comment by: kareem clemons (nyc) Fri., Mar. 6, 2009 at 11:12 pm UTC
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Comment by: Kritzmoritz (lagos) Thu., Mar. 5, 2009 at 7:09 am UTC
I am ultra sad. I did not realize that AIDS is still a major menace...that it still strikes people at 28 years. My heart aches, cos it tells me what's ahead for me
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Comment by: Karima Jackson (Newark, NJ) Wed., Mar. 4, 2009 at 1:38 pm UTC
R.I.P Shelton "Snoop" Jackson. Your family loves you and honors your memory. You will forever live in our hearts. You are an inspiration and a constant reminder that life is precious enough to fight for and live to its limits. You have touched so many lives and given so many people a voice who probably otherwise could have never imagined being heard. We now all shout at the top of our lungs... "We Love You...And Miss You"
-Your Lil Cuz, Karima!!!
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Comment by: Keva Tue., Mar. 3, 2009 at 10:33 am UTC
Just wanted to say that Shelton passed away yesterday. March 2, 2009. He fought a good fight. He now has his wings to go anywhere he want to go. Rest in peace my dear
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Comment by: Dave (Washington, DC) Sat., Jan. 31, 2009 at 1:21 pm UTC

I have not seen you in over 4 years. The last time I saw you was when you were celebrating your birthday in a DC nightclub in NE DC. I am very glad you are still focused on your personal and professional ambitions. Have you investigated or the Foundation Center as viable funding sources? Since you live in Baltimore, MD consider buying a 4 unit apartment building. Live in one unit and rent out the remainng three.

Congratulations on the new relationhip. Stay strong. Stay Blessed
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Comment by: Miracle (NJ) Fri., Jan. 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm UTC
Can you please recommend the doctor that you used in NJ?
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Comment by: Luca (UAE) Wed., Nov. 19, 2008 at 9:52 am UTC
I just tested positive while applying to a job. Three month ago I have been to hospital because of what seemed to be food poisoning. I asked to be HIV tested and it was negative. Two days ago I tested positive. I resigned from my job because in this country you cannot have a residency permit if you are HIV+.

I will need to link with HIV+ people to know how to deal with all that. I already informed my sister who will support me. But I also live in a country where being HIV+ cannot be revealed. I will be going home asap and will see a specialist. I am 34 years old and I am confused and freaking out. I feel like I'm jailed in my own body. When I look around to people in the street I know and understand what a luxury it is to be in good health. I also say I will try to keep what I have at this very moment. I will do my best, but I need your support guys.

I admire your courage and strength. I will need to meet HIV + people like me and see that they are living.
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Comment by: clueless (nashville) Fri., Nov. 14, 2008 at 10:04 am UTC
Hey! I am really am proud of you and how strong you are. Remember life is always great as long as we have Jesus in it. No matter what you are going through, Jesus is on your side,believe that. I'm a woman with a lot of belief. I'm not positive for a desease, but I am positive that you are a blessing from God. No matter what you have done, we are all God's children and' yes' Jesus loves you. Continue to take care of yourself. love, clueless.
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Comment by: annette Tue., Aug. 19, 2008 at 5:54 pm UTC
im still dealing with myself of having hiv
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Comment by: Robyn Franklin Fri., Aug. 1, 2008 at 10:12 am UTC
Hello Shelton. You probaly don't remember me but I use to be the supervisor for POWER in Newark at UMDNJ. Jason, Whaeedah and I are still stay in touch. Jason told me you were doing well a couple of years ago. I loged onto thebody and saw you! I was like I know him!! I am so proud of you with your writing career and all. Represent for Newark! You go boy. I moved down to Maryland in 2003. I live in the Laurel Bowie area. I would love to hear from you. Please write back or call. I still have my NJ number.

Thanks for your inspiring piece as well. Sharing your story helps many people to stay strong and life is worth living. Hope to hear from you.
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Comment by: Fattflietly Tue., Jul. 1, 2008 at 4:30 pm UTC
this bonus ;)
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Comment by: Latisha Harris Sat., Jun. 21, 2008 at 10:29 am UTC
This story is so inspirational. I work with HIV positive transgender population and I look for ways to encourage them. I hope you don't mind but you will be the talk of group Monday. In Louisiana you have to be creative in your approach when it comes to HIV treatment. State government know we have a problem but they won't listen until the problem reaches their own back door. Typical of the south. Thanks again for the story. I know I won't be the first and surely not the last you are making a difference. Thanks again.

Latisha Harris
Baton Rouge, La.
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