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World AIDS Day 2009

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First-Person Stories | Word on the Street

First-Person Stories

World AIDS Day is the perfect time to find out what it's like to live an HIV-positive life. Browse our collection of interviews; both transcripts and audio files are available! For more first-person interviews, visit's Podcast Central or subscribe to our popular series This Positive Life.


Enrique Franco Living Openly as a Gay, Positive Man in the Hispanic Community
The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy got Enrique Franco discharged from the Army. It also, oddly, was the reason he found out he was HIV positive. As Franco explains in this moving interview, diagnosis turned his life upside down, but he's now standing tall. "This is my body, this is my life," he says. "I'm not going to stop living. I refuse to put my head down."

Listen to his story (34 min.)

Download podcast or read the transcript.


Sherri Lewis Former Pop Star Sherri Lewis Talks About Surviving -- and Thriving -- With HIV
In 1987, Sherri Lewis, who had been the singer in a popular New York City rock band and had appeared on national TV, decided to settle down and get married. But a few months before the wedding, she learned she was HIV positive. She was crushed by the test results. Her fiancé, it turned out, was HIV negative. "We were told we couldn't kiss. We were told saliva had HIV in it," Lewis recalls. "I remember telling my husband under my wedding veil, 'Don't kiss me.'" Although her fiancé stuck by her side, her life was forever changed. "I have succeeded at living with HIV, and living healthy with it," she says. "But it took a big bite out of my life. Life interrupted. Career interrupted."

Listen to her story (50 min.)

Download podcast or read the transcript.


Justin B. Smith Openly Positive and Living Without Stigma
Justin B. Smith may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own blog and Web site, and he's even on YouTube. And who can blame him? Only 29, he already has an incredible story to tell. Justin admits he used to live "a very dangerous life," but since his diagnosis three years ago, the former heavy drinker and drug user has turned his life around. In this moving, one-on-one interview, Justin walks us through some of the key moments in his life, including the day in 2006 when he was diagnosed with HIV, his experiences dealing with stigma and ignorance, and his stint in the military as an openly gay man.

Listen to his story (41 min.)

Download podcast or read the transcript.


Word on the Street

Wendy Torres
From Me to You: Tips on Dealing With an HIV/AIDS Diagnosis

Hear from HIV/AIDS Advocates and Friends of People With HIV ... What Would They Tell Someone Just Diagnosed?

Wendy Torres, HIV/AIDS Advocate, Atlanta, Ga.

"When someone comes to you after they've found out they're HIV positive, it's like: "Oh my goodness! Why me?" You start going through all the different emotional stages that you go through. But just be reassured that there is hope, there are medicines; there's a lot of medical technology out there! There's definitely hope and this is not the end." Read More >>

Paul Cotten

Paul Cotten, Transitions Project, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, San Francisco, Calif.

"There are a lot of factors, but all things being equal: If HIV-positive people respond well to HIV medication and can adhere to medication and other issues in their lives, which may be more pressing, can be dealt with ... I think they're going to live long, full, healthy lives. It's not the death sentence that people tend to still even think nowadays that it is. I know lots of people who have lived many, many, many years with HIV and are doing fine and doing very well." Read More >>

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