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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

How I Fell in Love With an Illegal Alien

By Thomas DeLorenzo

July 22, 2009

In less than 45 days, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could lift the HIV travel ban. Currently, HIV-positive non-Americans cannot enter the country legally. In December of 1987, then Senator Jesse Helms added a rider to an agricultural bill, making it illegal for a person with HIV/AIDS to step foot on American soil. The senator's thinking was that the world would flood our shores with tired, hungry, immunocompromised masses yearning to take advantage of our American health care system.

What health care system? I mean, if foreigners can find it and learn how to take advantage of it, then let them come and join us. Let them come and take tons of advantage of it -- then let them teach a class at the local Learning Annex showing the rest of us how to do it. I don't know about you, but I believe the health part of my health insurance doesn't refer to me; it refers to the financial health of my insurance company.

Helms was great at stirring the pot with regards to all anti-HIV issues. He set the very anti-HIV tone that is still prevalent in this country to this day, though he eventually regretted it right before he died (way too late for my forgiveness, FYI).

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You see, I have firsthand knowledge about this ban and the damage it can do to one's life because years ago, I made the big mistake of falling in love with a citizen of the United Kingdom. In 1988, I had the opportunity to study Shakespeare with the masters at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England. I arrived in London a few weeks before classes started, to acclimate to the city and to see a little more of Europe before immersing myself in the world of the Bard. My first Sunday in London, I opted to go to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, to catch the exhibit of Impressionist paintings from Leningrad (yup, it was still called that then). I remember thinking, "Who cares how I dress? No one knows me here." So I dressed like a typical tourist: T-shirt, jeans, oversized sweatshirt, jeans jacket, and camera over my shoulder with my backpack. I reeked American.

During the Tube ride down, I got this very, very electric feeling. It was nothing I'd ever felt before -- or since actually -- and I remember thinking very clearly that I was going to meet someone very special that day. That person would be "the one." I am not usually one to have these moments, and just took it with a huge grain of salt and went on with my day.

However, while strolling towards the exhibit, there was this man, this incredibly handsome man, with the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen. My first thought was, "Damn shame he is with those two aunts of his." Two old ladies flanked him, and I assumed, given their close proximity, he was with them.

I walked past him, staring as I did. He was looking back. I paused. I looked back. He had done the same. And apparently he was alone.

I went towards him, and we began this little dance among the paintings in the Early Germanic room of the Gallery -- I would walk towards him, he would walk away, and then he would walk closer. Eventually, we spoke. OK, clarification here, he officially now gets credit for being the one who spoke first. You will understand why later.

This is the man I spent the next seven years of my life with. His name was David Burnside.

That day, we wandered the museum together. David told me that the exhibit line was way too long and not even to bother. He offered to share with me some of his favorite paintings; I took him up on it. I was introduced to the great benefactor of many an artist: Madame Moitessier. She was David's confidante when all else failed him. She knew all his secrets and fears. Madame Moitessier was always there for him, even when his world seemed to crumble around him.

We spent that evening walking around London and then caught Wim Wenders' movie Wings of Desire. How much better does a first date get? David was going to treat me to dinner at Cafe Pasta, but when he whipped out his credit card, the restaurant informed him that they only took cash. This one would be on me -- money well spent I must add.

David and I instantly became inseparable. We spent the next two nights together, this time actually sleeping together -- and only that. We both wanted to hold off what we knew would be inevitable. It was Wednesday morning when we finally sealed the deal.

Later that Wednesday, I asked him to join me in Paris. I was flying to Paris that Wednesday evening based on plans I had made before I met him. I thought he knew the city and spoke French, so why not? David instantly agreed to join me on Friday so that we might spend the weekend together in the City of Lights.

We reconnected that Friday night under the Arc de Triomphe; he ran towards me the second he caught sight of me. We were both 25 and neither of us had even remotely experienced what was about to happen, though we were both open to it. All of those silly lyrics in all of the love songs that one hears on the radio finally made sense. I knew then why people sang songs like that.

That evening, while lying in bed next to each other, David started asking me questions. Did I know about Edmund White, and that when he tested positive, his boyfriend (who tested negative) left him? How would I respond to something like that? I remember thinking for a bit, and then replying that it was a bigger statement on their relationship, for if you really, truly loved someone, why would it matter what his or her status was? As long as you play safe, all should be fine, right?

David then relayed his news.

I was speechless for a bit. I eventually asked about his health, how he was doing. I asked about our sex life -- we were being safe, right? He said yes.

I told him it was too late for me to run, for I had already fallen in love with him and had no desire to be anywhere else ever again.

Love is truly blind, and doesn't know about passports, or legal ramifications, or borders of any kind. Love just knows love, that's why it's so perfect. Senator Helms was about to enter my life in a big way, but just like every other problem we encountered during our time together, we found a way around it.

You see, David and I were the soul mates that one reads about. We completed each other's sentences, thought what the other was thinking, and became one. We had that love one would kill for. I knew going in that it was not going to be forever, but I also knew that perfection like this didn't come along every day and I was not going to let go until I absolutely had to.

Together, we fought the legal obstacles, the distance, and yes, the virus. We found that if he got an employment-based visa, there was no medical exam, so we jumped at the chance and David became legal of sorts.

We were also lucky because no one thought that a tall, handsome, blond man with a cool British accent could possibly be illegal. But David was. For seven years we lived in fear of getting caught, of deportation, of him not being allowed back in the country after we visited his family in the UK. Our lives continued thus until his death from AIDS in 1995. He died the month before the new protease inhibitors became available experimentally. I truly think what did him in was a lack of will go to on. After he left the job he loved and was on disability, he felt as if he had no reason to keep going, that why should he challenge the inevitable? With health problem after health problem after health problem, I can understand what he was going through. At some point at that period in the history of this dreaded disease, of his own struggles, he probably just said enough. After his death, I was scared to file the life insurance, for I assumed, wrongly, that they would have figured it out by then and nullify the policy. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Now, in a matter of weeks, David would have been legal. Yes, we would not have been legally married, but at least one part of the fear factor would have been lifted, and we could have traveled about with ease.

When I first heard about this possibility, I wanted to run to his side and say, "Look, they are finally lifting the ban," but then I remembered he was gone.

I do that now and then. I want to run and tell him something, in spite of the fact that he has been gone 14 years , and am abruptly reminded that he is no longer by my side. I long to hear what he would have said to all this nonsense, for he had an opinion about everything, which was part of the reason I fell for him.

This lifting of the ban is greater than it initially seems. Obviously, people like David would have an easier time of it here, but it also removes the U.S. from a rather short and nasty list.

I want to point out that it was the hard work of the good people of Immigration Equality (ImmigrationEquality.org) that was the driving force behind this effort. As of October 2008, the list of countries that do not allow entry to people living with HIV/AIDS included Brunei, Egypt, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Tunisia, Turks and Caicos Islands, UAE, and Yemen. I would hardly call those countries "progressive" by any stretch of the imagination.

I am humiliated that it took this long for my country to attempt to correct that wrong, and I remain confused as to why the U.S. can contribute millions of dollars a year to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but can do so very little for people living with HIV/AIDS within its own borders. Even as recently as a few months ago, California threatened to cancel its AIDS Drug Assistance Program because the state could not balance its budget.

I also get angry when I hear that 30 percent of the doctors on the west side of Los Angeles -- a supposedly liberal bastion of freedom -- still discriminate against people with HIV with respect to non-HIV-related medical situations, such as basic dental and vision care.

Twenty-one years ago, on Friday, July 10, David entered my heart and has not left since. I wish he were here to celebrate with. But like many of the big moments I have experienced since he left me, I will have to go it alone.

To contact Thomas, click here.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Missy (Fort Myers, FL) Wed., Nov. 11, 2009 at 11:50 am EST
We all should be so lucky to find such a love...God Bless
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Comment by: billy (dallas tx) Mon., Aug. 31, 2009 at 11:32 pm EDT
I have fallen in love with my soul mate from mexico, he is hiv positive and an illegal, and from reading all the material and searching the web sites there seems to be no way he can live here legally, even though he has been here 9 years and contracted the disease here. He is working and paying taxes but in constant fear he will be found out and deported even though he has health insurance. Where is the justice? Why isn't our community fighting this more? I am sure there are many reasons.
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Comment by: Patricia McKeon (NYC) Tue., Aug. 18, 2009 at 10:22 am EDT
Wow, your story bought tears to my eyes!! beautiful yet sad!!
My only comment about this country, we are called the UNITED states of America???????

Let us Stop Paying TAXES since we are not treated
EQUAL!!

You are a wonderful guy and please go out there and fall in Love again!! Someone is Waiting for you!!
Love and Peace
Patricia
Reply to this comment


Comment by: J. P. Minsinger (San Francisco, CA) Mon., Aug. 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm EDT
Your story is beautiful and sad. I was told I would only live for 2 years in 1992, and left the mainland to live with my lover in Puerto Rico....to die under a palm tree on a beautiful beach. I was most likely infected by my lover, but have outlived him. I was saved by the new meds in 1995, and have now lived with HIV for 23 years...mas o menos. I wish you love, good health, and happiness. You are a blessing to all of us. Thanks for sharing.
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Comment by: Ron Kirkpatrick (Columbus,OH) Mon., Aug. 10, 2009 at 4:54 pm EDT
Beautiful story. My lover passed HIV on to me. He was not aware that he was infected when we met.

USA health care is substandard to every other industrial nation. When will people wake up and smell the coffe?
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Comment by: Lynn (Chicago IL) Mon., Aug. 10, 2009 at 1:43 pm EDT
That's such a tragic yet beautiful story. My favorite cousin died of AIDS at 35--that was about 20 years ago. Thank you for sharing.
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Comment by: ERIC MICHAEL HARRISON (Australia) Tue., Aug. 4, 2009 at 9:41 am EDT
Your story made me cry. Love like that comes seldom and as a HIV positive UK citizen who has lived in Australia for the last three years, I would like tell all that Australia is such a great country. As a commonwealth citizen, I get full reciprical health care and pay no more than an Australia citzen for my presriptions. I have a full health team, Specialist HIV doctor, GP, Dentist and Nutritionist. Unfortunately, when I apply for permanent residence I will be discriminated against as I would fail the health waiver to qualify. If I stay on a 457 viser I am ok until 2011 after that I have to leave as it would be a major problem getting the health requirement waived. Anyway I feel that my treatment so far in Australia has been far superior to anything I could get in the US.
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Comment by: Matt C (Long Beach, CA) Sat., Aug. 1, 2009 at 5:18 pm EDT
Wow..this story touched me as well. I was deeply in love with a Mexican citizen that came to the US and then contracted HIV here. We lived in the same kinds of shadows you mention because of his immigration and HIV status. Thank God when he got sick he was able to get health care here or he would be dead, today he is healthy but can't really live without full citizenship status. I saw we get marriage equality first so that our partners regardless of citizenship or HIV status can be full and equal partners and it allows USA citizens not to remain secondclass as well. Let's hope the US Supreme Court will eventually rule on this issue and create the ability for us to be married and have full and complete lives here.
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Comment by: MB (CALIFORNIA) Thu., Jul. 30, 2009 at 12:39 am EDT
I CAME TO THIS COUNTRY 20 YEARS AGO AND FALL IN LOVE WITH CHRIS AND HE WAS POSITIVE, JUST LIKE YOU SAID, LOVE IS BLIND AND I SPENT 6 YEARS WITH HIM AND WORK 2 JOBS TO HELP HIM OUT, CAUSE HE HAS NO INSURANCE AND HIS PARENT DISOWNED HIM. ANYWAY HE PASSED AWAY AFTER 6 YEARS TOGETHER, I TESTED POSITIVE SOON AFTER HIS DEATH. I AM AN ILLEGAL STUDENT FROM ASIA AND HAVEN'T BEEN BACK TO MY HOME COUNTRY FOR 20 YEARS, I MISS MY FAMILY, ESPECIALLY MY MOM WHO IS VERY OLD AND SICK, I KNOW IF I EVER STEP OUT OF THIS COUNTRY I COULD NEVER COME BACK. PLUS MY LOVER IS BURIED HERE AND THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO BE, NEXT TO HIM WHEN I AM EXPIRED, I AM STILL ILLEGAL AND EVERY DAY I PRAY THAT I WOULD WIN A VISA LOTTERY OR AMNESTY SO THAT I CAN GO BACK HOME TO VISIT MY MOM BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE AND I BEEN LIVING WITH THE FEAR OF WHAT WOULD I DO IF MY MOM DIED, I WORK AND PAY TAX AND AM A GOOD PERSON. SOMETIMES I FEEL THAT GOOD PERSONS ALWAYS FINISH LAST. I REALLY HOPE THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES WILL LIFT THE BAN. AT LEAST I KNOW I AM ONE STEP CLOSER TO VISIT MY FAMILY.
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Comment by: Karl (Phoenix, Az) Sun., Jul. 26, 2009 at 2:41 am EDT
Very moving and sweet. I was in love with an illegal, too -- before I found out my status. It's hell, I know.
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Comment by: John (kenya) Fri., Jul. 24, 2009 at 5:16 am EDT
A very moving story. Feeling sorry for you. I am also in a relationship but have yet to "decide how to handle such a situation." Your story will go along way in assisting us.
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Comment by: JOHN (Atlanta, GA) Fri., Jul. 24, 2009 at 1:56 am EDT
I've fallen in love with illegal aliens more than once. And while my HIV was probably contracted by one of these men, it's wrong to deny an HIV+ person entry into a country that already has HIV+ citizens anyway!!! We're only human, after all!!!
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Comment by: JIMMY MACK (SOUTHAMPTON, NY) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm EDT
What a beautiful story from a beautiful man! I was so touched, I wept! My current partner and I lived the immigration nightmare for years (he's French) until he won the Green Card Lottery. Am a big fan and supporter of Immigration Equality. I, too, have a blog on this website.
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Comment by: leonardo (las vegas) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 6:03 pm EDT
what a horrible title for such a beautiful story! i am an undocumented immigrant living in the united states, i am NOT an illegal alien! i don't come from mars, and i am NOT a criminal!
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Comment by: George (Palm Beach) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm EDT
There's nothing like a love affair. Sorry that you have lost him!
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Comment by: mars2 (chililabombe, zambia) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 10:45 am EDT
I am touched. So beautiful words. I hope this happens sooner than later. It feels bad for those of us who r poz to realize that there are places u can't go to coz of HIV status.
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Comment by: joe (united kingdom) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 5:15 am EDT
this has really touched me heart, am glad u live by his memory and have not lost all hope to all other countries that still discriminates the perhaps its becoz they are not keeping pace with the drums that we human beings are playing for them. let them dance to their own beat
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Comment by: Kate (Zambia, Lusaka) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 4:53 am EDT
Whaoh, This is the most touching story. How Lucky, you found a love of your lifetime. Thank God you had time together and continue to treasure those moments.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Sergio (Brazil) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 4:40 am EDT
Well. I thought that xenophoby would have a pause after Obama's election. I've been in USA in 2000 as a grantee from an american museum. I did not disclose my HIV status to the immigration authorities because I did not think it was important. If I did, the USA wouldn't let me enter the country? This is a big joke!!! After all, my country (Brazil) provides one of the best heath care (entirely free) to HIVers (free HAART medications, doctors, etc.). Your country thinks everyone in the world wants to get there and take advantage of the educational and health system. Well, Brazil has one of the best ways to deal with HIV and this is since the early 90ies. Well, this is a shame for the entire American people who allow yheir government to act under unrealistic premises. Lots of countries have better heath systems them USA, LOTS!!!...well, I wish the best to you...
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Comment by: Jim Westlake (Palm Desert) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 3:12 am EDT
Such wonderful words put into a wonderful story...a love story! Bravo!!!
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Comment by: Renford C (Colombo. Sri Lanka) Thu., Jul. 23, 2009 at 2:26 am EDT
Amazing story.....beautifully written...all the best..........
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Lee Gwo Yinn (Singapore) Wed., Jul. 22, 2009 at 9:36 pm EDT
This is one of the most beautiful love stories I've read so far.
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Who Knew So Few T Cells Could Accomplish So Much?


Until just a few years ago, Thomas DeLorenzo never would have believed he could become an HIV/AIDS activist. Before he was "officially" diagnosed with HIV in 2001 -- with 60 T cells and a viral load of 300,000 -- DeLorenzo had been living in denial. And until 2006, he was too busy dealing with the many side effects of his own HIV meds to think about helping anyone else. Then he and his doctors finally figured out the perfect med combo -- and, finally, DeLorenzo felt that he actually had a future.

DeLorenzo lives in Los Angeles with his partner and is currently attending law school at Southwestern University School of Law. His career goals include making sure all Americans have access to adequate and affordable health care. Prior to law school, DeLorenzo worked as a publicist in the entertainment industry, representing many award-winning celebrities.

In 2006, The New York Times named him an Unsung Hero in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS for his Christmas Goody Bag Project for the residents of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation Hospice. In 2008, DeLorenzo was the San Antonio AIDS Foundation's Angel of the Year. DeLorenzo's alma mater, Hofstra University, named him Alumnus of the Month in August 2009 for his work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. DeLorenzo was recently appointed to the City of West Hollywood's Disabilities Advisory Board.


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