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Joy Morris-Hightower

July/August 2008

Joy Morris-Hightower 

Joy Morris-Hightower

"I am 45 years old, I've been living with HIV 27 years, and I'm undetectable," says Chicagoan Joy Morris-Hightower. "I've been through every complication of HIV/AIDS in the '90s. I'm a recovering addict and a recovering prostitute -- I really do believe it was an addiction. I was addicted to the money and the drugs that came along with it. I'm grateful that I survived."

Joy told her mother when she was five that she was going to be a girl. "She gave me a whupping and told me I was a boy. But I was still feminine and got beat up by the boys. I suppressed my feelings because of my family's morals, but at 18 I became transgender when I went to the streets. There were no jobs for transgenders, although it's better today. We all wound up in the sex trade."

She says she suffered from depression and fear. "I was in a lot of pain. It wasn't easy to stop drugs. I've relapsed and relapsed since I've been in my recovery, but it was nothing like when I was in my addiction. I was on a suicide mission."

She was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, but believes she contracted it in 1981 from a lover who died in 1984. "The doctor told me I had six months to two years to live. This was when there were no medications, no medical nothing. I went directly into my drug addiction and stayed there for the next 16 years. And when I realized I wasn't going to die and that God had a plan for my life, I changed."

She entered drug treatment at the Haymarket Center in Chicago.

"I had wasting syndrome and was in a nursing home. I was still in my addiction. They gave me hope in Haymarket. They gave me encouragement, they gave me faith. They gave me my life back. I'm truly in debt to them. I left the nursing home and made it to the city in March 2002 and I haven't looked back."

What she found at Haymarket was a loving support she had not expected. "[Counselor and Associate Program Director] Kenis Williams at Haymarket was so understanding and open-minded, not discriminatory. She made me feel that I could do this, that I could recover from my addiction."

It was in recovery that she says she discovered someone else who wasn't discriminatory.

"I didn't realize it until I started working the steps [of Narcotics Anonymous], the whole process is getting back in touch with God. Some people say Higher Power."

Joy Morris-HightowerAn important part of her recovery was releasing the condemnation she's felt from religious leaders. She believes the eunuchs of the Bible, including Daniel from the Book of Daniel, would be considered transgender today, and that they were glorified, not damned.

"They were considered noble, honorable wise men of that era, but today we have been demonized, ostracized, and outcast. We're told we're going straight to hell. They demonize gay people and say we're an abomination. Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego, and Daniel -- the eunuchs are the ones who will be singing hallelujah to Jesus. They had the favor of God on them and I know God favors me."

She says she uses the term "gay men" because "that's how they put us, all in the same chart."

"[Ministers] Farwell, Farrakhan -- they say HIV is a curse for gays. I know that was a lie because I'm still here. And ministers are still lying. I had believed all those things those preachers said all those years. Being gay meant being HIV-positive. If you're gay, you're already an outcast. Then if you're positive, you're a leper. That's how everyone treated you. But just looking at the evidence, I know that God loves me."

Ironically, joining the recovery support group that Haymarket runs with TPAN helped her greatly, ironically because TPAN was unable to help her 15 years ago.

"It wasn't TPAN necessarily that was uncomfortable as it was the group. I felt out of place in a room full of MSM (men who have sex with men). They talked around me as if I wasn't there. I didn't feel like I could relate to what they were talking about, and there was nobody there like me. I wasn't in denial about my HIV, but it was hard to talk about it. I didn't have anyone to talk to. It wasn't a welcoming feeling and I was discouraged. I didn't feel accepted, I didn't feel welcome. Now [when she returned to TPAN] I didn't feel ostracized, I didn't feel rejected.

Although the support group she attends here today has only a few transgender individuals, Joy feels at home.

"My purpose is to help people. I try to encourage them. I try to show that by me living with this disease, they know they can live," she says. "I tell people, hold on to your dreams.

"You don't have to be ashamed or afraid to talk about this disease, because it's not a curse from God."

The pain she felt before, she says, had come not only from not being accepted for being transgender and for being HIV-positive, but for not having an education. "Basically, I felt like a failure. Today I have my high school diploma and a little bit of college, and I'm gainfully employed. I'm an outreach consultant. My whole philosophy is to prevent this disease."

She has volunteered with the HIV program planning councils for the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, and several other organizations.

"Today I work with Men and Women in Prison Ministry. I'm on the board of directors developing an orphanage in Africa (www.thefutureofbenin.com)."

Her family has changed with her.

"I talk to my mother all the time, and my father too. Today they are my best friends. They're older and mature, and now understand. Back then they thought it was a phase."

Got a comment on this article? Write to us at publications@tpan.com



This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.

See Also
Inspiring Stories: Transgender People With HIV


Reader Comments:

Comment by: Joy (Pennsylvania) Tue., Nov. 9, 2010 at 7:21 am EST
Hi Joy,

As you can see my name is Joy as well.... I want to tell you that you are a blessing to the World. God gave you a tremendous gift and you are to use it to the fullest. He has given you the power to touch lives with the words that you speak out of your mouth. Just some advice, it's imperative that you choose your words carefully or should I say before you speak publicly PRAY!!!! Your words impact lives and take root, grow and manifest. You are an extraordinary person. I realize this in you Joy, because I to have that powerful gift. You are a warrior for God. Although I have not been diagnosed with HIV, It is still a part of my ministry. My ministry is very crucial for these times, days and circumstances. Although we have never met....I believe in my heart that we will connect. It is time for GODS true messengers to come to the forefront and it is time for those that have been burdening people for so long to sit back take notes and learn a few things about GODS true chosen vessels. They have been there done that and doing GREAT things to prepare the earth of what we call heaven on earth. It is filled with lots of love and ALL are welcomed in it, no matter where you have been or what you have done. I want to encourage you to keep your head up and continue to fight for the lives of all of GODS children, because you are a part of that nation that is raising a new standard and bringing people into the REAL REALM of LOVE........ You know how to love JOY and it started by loving yourself, deeply, compassionately and all that is wrapped up in the thing called LOVE. What a beautiful person you are. NOW Where ya been all my life...LOL. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH...Now take care of Gods Business and you GO ON WITH YOUR POWERFUL SELF!!!!!!
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Comment by: DENISE (NY) Tue., Jul. 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm EDT
I HAVENT BEEN TOLD I HAVE HIV YET BUT I FEEL LIKE I HAVE IT BUT U MADE ME FEEL SO MUCH BETTER BY READING UR STORY.I JUST GOT OFF THE FONE W ONE OF MY REAL GOOD SIS AND SHE ALSO HAS HIV AND NOW ME AND HER ARE GOING TO THE CLINIC TOMORROW MORNING TO TAKE ME A TEST AND SEE WHAT IS GOING ON WITH ME...I LUV U AND THANK U SO MUCH
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Comment by: unknown (chicago,il) Mon., Jul. 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm EDT
i am a 25 yr old mother of two lovely girls and i am positive i am in the worse state of mind rightnow and i need help im homeless jobless and just feel like dying i try to be strong for my girls but i cant do that i feel like im at the end of the earth and cant go any futher you are good im on a suicide mission by the time you read this i might be dead
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Joanne T (ME.) Mon., Apr. 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm EDT
Unknown. Hi. Your comment touched my heart, but also I am sure the Lord's heart. He wants no one to perish, but everyone to accept Him as their personal Lord and Saviour. Your comment was chilling to me, but I do have some questions if thats ok. How long have you had HIV? Are you and your girls able to find shelter in a homeless shelter? I'm looking at the date of this and as you said you may be dead by the time I read this. If not, please write to me, and I may be able to help you. May God bless you.


Comment by: Kenny Omni (Chicago ) Fri., Jun. 4, 2010 at 10:29 am EDT
My abrasive comment should hit home with a lot of people. While some of us claim to HELP people - I would like to know what gave this "lady" the right to disclose personal health information of someone that was in the hospital on an unrelated incident to all her friends and family that didn't know in a hospital waiting room. That clouded judgment definitely doesn't give anyone INSPIRATION. It wasn't her job nor her place to disclose that kind of information.
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Comment by: (New York) Mon., Mar. 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm EST
I don't know what to say...everyone else took the words right out of my mouth. Girl, you are great, you are livin', you are inspiration. Thanks so much for having the strength to tell your story. I wish you the best of luck in your future, but it seems you don't need it. You've already started on a great path that's all your own making. I pray you continue, and know that God would be foolish not to take a smart, beautiful person like you. Who are they kidding? They obviously don't know the person you are inside. Stay strong.
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Comment by: Joy Morris-Hightower (Chicago, Illinois) Mon., Jan. 25, 2010 at 9:37 am EST
Thank you for all of your comments please feel free to check out my website. www.transactionschicago.org or email me at mzjoy773@yahoo.com
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Comment by: Susan Robinson (Indianapolis IN) Mon., Jan. 11, 2010 at 9:02 am EST
What an inspiration! I'm glad that your Christian testimony is so obvious. Please check out our Church's web site..JesusMCC.org. We are a church that is there for all GLBT people and we have a large Trans community. God bless you!
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Comment by: tut (pittsburgh PA) Wed., Nov. 18, 2009 at 8:29 am EST
I feel so bad for you. You had an amazing life
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Comment by: Maria Hunt (Ft Lee, VA) Sun., Nov. 1, 2009 at 7:45 am EST
I too saw you on the Pirro show and I was inspired. To be as close to death's door and come back as strong as you have is truly a miracle and a blessing from God. He knows you aren't finished yet and sees you have much more to do, especially in education of HIV/AIDS and the transgendered community. We are all lucky to have you. Best of luck to you always, Maria
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Comment by: ANGEL (TENNESSEE) Fri., Oct. 30, 2009 at 3:08 pm EDT
WOW YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL I SEEN YOU ON THE JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO SHOW. MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND I AM GLAD YOUR PARENTS ARE BACK IN YOUR LIFE. YOU ARE A REAL PERSON.
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Comment by: DEEVA (NJ) Tue., Sep. 23, 2008 at 8:19 pm EDT
YOUR STORY BROUGHT TEARS TO MY EYES AND A SOB TO MY THROAT...ESPECIALLY THE MENTION OF SHADRACH MESHACH AND ABEDNEGO...AS A HETEROSEXUAL AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN WHO WAS DIAGNOSED WITH FULL BLOWN AIDS IN 2000. I TOO FOUND MYSELF HOMELESS. I ALSO UNDERWENT AN EMERGANCY REMOVAL OF AN INFECTED GALL BLADDER, WHILE MIND YOU MY T-CELLS WERE 9 AT BEST DURING THE SURGERY. I WAS BREIFLY WHEELCHAIR BOUND AND HAVE SINCE HAD A BOUT WITH CANCER WHICH RESULTED IN MY HAVING A PERMENANT COLOSTOMY. NOW I HAVE TO HAVE AN ADDITIONAL MAJOR SURGERY. I FEEL THAT I TOO HAVE BEEN SURLY TESTED. JOY, WHAT AN APPROPRIATE NAME. YOUR STORY HAS INSPIRED ME TO ASK GOD WHAT IS MY PURPOSE? WHAT WORK DOES HE HAVE IN MIND FOR ME IN THIS STRUGGLE? I HOPE WHATEVER IT IS I WILL BE AS COURAGEOUS AS YOU.YOU HAVE MY UTMOST LOVE, AN ADMIRATION AS A TRUE A TESTMENT OF GOD CAN DO. PLEASE KEEP ME IN YOUR PRAYERS.

DEEVA
NEW JERSEY
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Comment by: jlove (st.kitts/nevis) Mon., Sep. 22, 2008 at 3:07 pm EDT
I feel so blessed to have read your story. You have given me something to live for. I wish i had your email address so i could correspond with you.
Jlove
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Comment by: andrompi@yahoo.co.uk (U.K) Thu., Sep. 18, 2008 at 1:50 pm EDT
Hi Joy:

What a moving testimony,the period of life as an HIVer,absolutely amazing, knowing the Lord has actually added an extra quality to your life, well done!

You are such an inspiration, especially to HIVers, your article caught my attention when you mentioned your interest in prison ministry. My sister, who is also a child of God and an Evangelist has dedicated her time to save those souls in prisons, she also in the process of setting up a safe home for the orphans and destitutes, I believe you are highly blessed, God has a purpose for you.

I hope you respond to this mail and i could forward her e-mail address to you for correspondences and encouragement.

Stay blessed

Yours in Christ
Andronica
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