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This Positive Life: An Interview With Anthony Castro and Frank Lopez

By Bonnie Goldman

February 1, 2011

Inspiring stories of people living with HIV.

Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Anthony Castro and Frank Lopez, a loving couple from San Francisco. In 2000, Anthony, a then-19-year-old immigrant from Chile, discovered he was HIV positive. With an initial CD4 count of four, he was given only six months to live. Anthony's partner, Frank, was diagnosed in 2007. He had been living a party lifestyle after a long year of heartbreak and financial frustration. Anthony and Frank tell us about their experiences living with HIV; how they met and fell in love; and how they cope with the cultural stigma they both face for being both positive and gay.

Bonnie Goldman: Welcome to This Positive Life. I have an amazing couple with me today. They will introduce themselves and tell you a little bit about their story. Anthony, why don't you start?

Anthony Castro: Hi. My name is Anthony. I'm 28, and I was diagnosed with HIV in the year 2000. I just came to this country that year, in February, and in May I was diagnosed with HIV.

Bonnie Goldman: Where did you come from?

Anthony Castro: I came from Chile.

Bonnie Goldman: What, you came as a tourist?

Anthony Castro: I came as a tourist. Basically, I was thinking of staying in the country, but I was not really sure, coming from a Latin country where gays are not well seen. Basically, they get discriminated a lot and even sometimes harassed on the streets. I wanted to see a new country, probably for me to live in. So I was in that process. I came in February. Unfortunately, my family didn't like it that much, so they left before me.

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Bonnie Goldman: What made you get tested?

Anthony Castro: I was dating this person, and he wanted to have unprotected sex. For that reason, we decided to get tested before that. I got tested and I found out that I was HIV positive.

Bonnie Goldman: What did you feel like? What did you know about HIV when you were first diagnosed?

Anthony Castro: I didn't know much about HIV. Basically, I knew what people would tell me. It was a "gay disease." It was a "death sentence." So I was really scared. I didn't want to get it. But it happened. Unfortunately, when I went to the doctor it was my first doctor experience in this country.

Bonnie Goldman: How did you go to the doctor? Did you have insurance?

Anthony Castro: No, I didn't have insurance. I went under this person's insurance. He could take some people with him. So that's how I got tested.

Unfortunately, the doctor didn't know much [about] how to talk to people with the virus. He told me I was really sick. He told me not to make plans for the end of the year because I was too sick, that basically, I should start making my peace with everybody. Yeah, I mean, he didn't know how to speak to someone. I mean, it's shocking news, telling somebody that you have a disease that has no cure yet.

Bonnie Goldman: But in 2000 there was good treatment.

Anthony Castro: Yeah, there was good treatment. But he told me that with the way that the virus was advancing on my body, treatment would make me even worse, that my body would now resist the treatment because I was too sick. So he said, "It wouldn't have any importance for you to take meds because they will make you sicker than you are."

Bonnie Goldman: What were your numbers?

Anthony Castro: My T-cell count got to be 4, and my viral load got to be 6 million. So I was -- yeah, I was really sick. I was. I didn't look that sick at the time. But with time, I started to lose my hair. Then I lost my nails. Then I lost my toenails, too. I got really skinny.

Bonnie Goldman: Did you start treatment?

Anthony Castro: No, because of what the doctor said.

Bonnie Goldman: Oh, so you just thought it was over.

"So for a 19-year-old guy, to tell him at 19, 'Your life is over,' I started to do anything that I hadn't done before -- meaning, trying drugs, drinking, going to clubs, having sex."

-- Anthony Castro

Anthony Castro: Yeah. The doctor told me that by the end of the year, I shouldn't be alive.

Bonnie Goldman: And so he didn't provide treatment?

Anthony Castro: He didn't provide treatment. He said that it was going to make me sicker.

Bonnie Goldman: Where was this?

Anthony Castro: This was in Miami. It was difficult news, and obviously, I was at the time just 19. So for a 19-year-old guy, to tell him at 19, "Your life is over," I started to do anything that I hadn't done before -- meaning, trying drugs, drinking, going to clubs, having sex (which I hadn't done that much, but the few times that I did, obviously, I got infected).

So I started with this self-destructive behavior that drove me to lose my hair, lose my toenails, my nails. I was so skinny. I'm 5 foot 8. I got to weigh 120 pounds. And my skin was full of rashes. My body was shutting down.

But then the antigen came. And I was still alive. I'd keep getting involved in all this self-destructive behavior, till one day, I realized it was already 2003 -- and I was still alive. So maybe I was not supposed to die. So I started educating myself about the virus. What can I do? Obviously, I've passed the few months of life that they gave me. So there had to be a reason for me to still be alive. So I educated myself about the virus: What could I do?

Bonnie Goldman: How did you educate yourself?

Anthony Castro: I looked online. There are many places online where you can look for information. I talked to people that I knew that were infected. I went to centers, when they would give counseling to people with HIV. That way I was just getting a little information.

Bonnie Goldman: So what was your living condition like? Who were you living with at the time?

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Anthony Castro: It was complicated because I came to this country undocumented. I just had my tourist visa, which was about to expire. So I was living with my father, at some point. He didn't like the idea that I was gay and HIV positive. It was not good for him, good for his image or anything.

Bonnie Goldman: So he wasn't supportive?

Anthony Castro: He was not supportive at all. So basically, I was jumping from place to place, little friends that I'd make. "Can I stay with you a week?" "Can I stay with you a few days?" What drove me to find the first job that I could find: I was getting a little better in my health, so I developed a nice body and I started working as a stripper. Working as a stripper, I got even more involved in drugs and stuff like that, unfortunately.

But then finally I found this nice person. He offered me a place in his big house and took me to some centers where I could get treatment for people undocumented like me. They give you free treatment, and they give you pills and counseling. And that way, I keep getting better and better and better. My T-cell count went from 4 to 36. Then it went up when I met my gorgeous partner, Frankie, in Miami.

I had a T-cell count, it was still low. It was still an AIDS diagnosis. It was 96. But I was already getting a lot better. I had already passed the self-destructive behavior. My pills are my religion right now.

Bonnie Goldman: What treatment were you given?

Anthony Castro: Well, first, it was three pills. One was Sustiva (efavirenz, Stocrin), Combivir (AZT/3TC) and I don't remember the name of the other one. Then I got in another treatment. I had a greater rejection to that, because of moving from place to place. I couldn't get the pills. So when you stop taking your pills, you can --

Bonnie Goldman: Develop resistance.

Frank Lopez: Resistance.

Anthony Castro: Resistance. So then I was the second person taking Atripla (efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC) in Miami. So they were doing their research with me.

Bonnie Goldman: You were involved in a clinical trial?

Anthony Castro: I was in a clinical trial. So that way I could get the treatment for free and, at the same time, get checked. But problems, I had to move again, so I couldn't finish with the treatment. And I developed a resistance to Atripla.

Finally, they put me on Truvada (tenofovir/FTC), Reyataz (atazanavir) and Norvir (ritonavir). And it's been working perfect for me.

Bonnie Goldman: What's your CD4 count and viral load now?

Anthony Castro: Well, my CD4 count now is 1,024 and my viral load is undetectable.

Bonnie Goldman: Who was the first person you told?

Anthony Castro: The first person I told, at this point, I don't remember. I went for like three months without talking to anybody. I was just in shock. I mean, people just saw me, that I was sick. And I would say, "Well, I'm just going through a very bad time in my life," not going into details. My mother, it took me like six months to tell her.

Bonnie Goldman: What did she say when you told her?

Anthony Castro: She cried. She said that maybe this was because of being the kind of person that I am. She never wanted to say, admit, that I'm gay. She's like, "Don't. Baby, this is happening because you are how you are." I'm like, "Do you mean gay?" She thought that it was a punishment from God. But at the end, God is love, so he doesn't punish anybody, especially this way. And I get to share my life with someone equally like me.

Bonnie Goldman: Do you want to talk about your first contact with HIV?

Frank Lopez: Well, it's difficult. My spiral began in August of 2006. I had just gone through a really bad breakup. A week later, while I was at home in Miami visiting my family, I got a phone call from New York from a total stranger. Apparently, there had been a nationwide search for me because someone that was very, very, very near and dear to me passed away. His name was Willi Ninja. Many people don't know Willi by name, but they know him by work. Willi was Madonna's choreographer for Vogue, and he was Tyra Banks' trainer for walking runway, among many, many others.

And they found me. I mean, this was literally -- how they found me, I have no idea. They told me what had happened and how Willi had left a dying wish. This wish was that his legacy would go on. And his legacy was to give back to the community. And at the time, I was HIV negative. But I had gone through a one-two blow to my life, and it just made me go into a bout of depression.

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Bonnie Goldman: What did?

Frank Lopez: The breakup, the loss of Willi. Willi was, and is, to me larger than life; he is to many people.

Bonnie Goldman: How did you know him?

Frank Lopez: I met Willi over 10 years ago. Being an airline employee, I was the jet-setter. I've lived a very blessed life. And I met Willi one night at Escuelita in New York, in Manhattan. I was standing at the back of the line and there, up front, was this tall black guy, with these shoulders from California to New York. He was wearing this white fur coat, and just as flashy as can be. And he says, "You! Unh-unh. Come here, honey. You ain't standing back there."

So Willi pulled me out of the line, goes up to the front, tells the guards, "He's with me." We go downstairs. And I can't dance couples to save my life. So Willi starts twirling me. They were playing salsa music. And we brought the house down. And it was the beginning of a friendship that went deeper than friendship. Willi became my brother -- the brother I never had. And we shared a lot.

I would jet-set across the country. Because he would be choreographing and dancing with La India, from the freestyle '80s, and various and sundry other artists. I would tell him what was going on with my life, and he would give me the advice a big brother would give me: "Hang in there. It's going to be OK."

So, needless to say, when Willi died, it just, it was the second blow -- the first one being the loss of a five-year relationship. I don't believe in short-term relationships. And so I was devastated. I cried for two days nonstop when Willi died.

My life has been one of extreme highs and extreme lows, having survived the demise of Pan Am because of the Lockerbie terrorist tragedy, and --

Bonnie Goldman: So you had been an employee of Pan Am?

Frank Lopez: Of Pan Am, yes. And then, at the time that Willi passed, I was an employee of United. And, of course, as we already know from 9/11, that was a very traumatic event. Once again, because of a terrorist attack, I find myself in dire financial straits. And I lost a second pension. So I already had a preexisting depression going on. And then, when you couple that with the loss of my relationship and the loss of the person that I loved most, the depression was such that -- and I'm not claiming to be a victim, because I did it of my own volition -- I started using crystal [meth]. And, very much like the commercial says, I lost myself to meth. That was in January of 2007.

In March, I was very much in the P and P scene (P and P being, party and play). So I was meeting random hookups online. And we got high one night, and I just didn't care. I was sad. I didn't want to feel. And I had bareback sex.

And I knew then. I knew. I absolutely knew at that moment what had happened. Within a few weeks, I began to become ill. Within a month, I had lost 30 pounds. Fevers, night sweats, vomiting, diarrhea, a fever of 101.4 that just would not go away. And I'm thinking to myself, "Frankie, something is wrong."

So I go online and I start looking at WebMD. I'm somewhat computer literate. And I start doing my research and I'm saying, "Mm-mm, this isn't looking good." And then I started developing MRSAs, commonly known as M-R-S-A: staph infections. And I was getting them treated. Every time I went to the doctors they said, "Have you gotten an HIV test?" And you know, during this period of two months, I got a total of seven HIV blood tests. And they all came back negative.

But my doctor told me, "Are you prepared for the possibility of becoming HIV positive?" And I say, "Well, I don't know. We'll deal with that when it comes." All the tests keep coming back negative, but I was getting sicker and sicker.

It was May 16th of 2007 when the doctor ordered me to come back into the office. The doctor walked in and he said, and I quote, "There's just no easy way to say this. You're HIV positive." It sounds kind of brisk, but I'm OK with that. It was just straightforward, black and white. Don't sugarcoat it, because I need to know what's what, and how to deal with it.

The first person that I told was my friend Tony. He was living with me. And we cried. And that same day, out of the sheer panic, that's when I decided to channel my energy. I called home and I told my family. So that was one of the biggest hurdles in my life -- to tell my family not only that -- well, I didn't have to tell them that I was gay, because they knew once I told them that I was HIV positive, the rest was evident.

Bonnie Goldman: So when you say your family, whom did you tell?

Frank Lopez: My mother and my father. And there was a lot of crying.

Bonnie Goldman: They were in Florida? In Miami?

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Frank Lopez: In Miami, yes.

Bonnie Goldman: Had they already accepted that you were gay? Or they didn't know?

Frank Lopez: Don't ask, don't tell.

Bonnie Goldman: OK. Suspected.

Frank Lopez: Yeah. With the confirmation that I was HIV positive, well, they put two and two together.

In any event, there were so many tragedies that were going on in my life; I really didn't have much of a chance to absorb my own condition. Because a month later, my father would have a stroke that almost cost him his life. Then he would have renal failure. And of course, he's back to smoking and drinking right now, driving everyone crazy. So we know he's fine. But then a month after that, my uncle would be diagnosed with cancer throughout his entire body. He was afraid for his life, and I needed to show everyone that if I was OK that they would be OK. So it was yet another way for me to channel what I was going through.

"I started to notice something. That by sharing my own experiences, I was helping other people. When I saw the confidence start to build in them, it gave me confidence. This is an affirmation for me."

-- Frank Lopez

I started to notice something. That by sharing my own experiences, I was helping other people. When I saw the confidence start to build in them, it gave me confidence. This is an affirmation for me.

Bonnie Goldman: What was your initial CD4 and viral load?

Frank Lopez: I don't recall the initial CD4. My initial viral load was only 23,000. My CD4 got down to 312, which is nowhere near Anthony's 4. He is my miracle. He's my inspiration. But my percentage went down to 12 percent, which, by definition, is AIDS. And my viral load had gone up to half a million. I didn't need to get that far to know that, "You know what? Frank, slow down."

Bonnie Goldman: How did you find a doctor?

Frank Lopez: At the time I had private insurance through my company. I was just going to the local clinic. I had designated him as my primary care physician, and he's who I was working with. It was just happenstance. I don't think it was anything that I had really planned.

Bonnie Goldman: So it wasn't an HIV specialist.

Frank Lopez: No, he wasn't. Eventually I ended up meeting a doctor through a program here in San Francisco sponsored by the STOP AIDS Project. It was the PLUS Seminar, a two-day seminar for people who have been recently diagnosed with HIV, to basically give them the ABCs of HIV: What is available, what are their rights, what are their responsibilities, how to live a better life, how to improve the quality of your life. And I'll tell you, everything that I needed to know I learned through the STOP AIDS Project, at their PLUS Seminar. Later on it would be further enhanced by the Shanti Project, which is a nationwide organization, and their L.I.F.E. Program, which . . . Anthony and I made a 16-week commitment to improve the quality of our life. In many senses, we've been blessed. Thank you.

Bonnie Goldman: You told your parents. What was their reaction?

Frank Lopez: There was a lot of crying.

Bonnie Goldman: Did they want to share cups with you, still? Did they have any issues about that?

Frank Lopez: No. They didn't. Keeping a country between us kind of helps, in a way. And again, with all the tragedies that were going on, in a strange twist of fate it actually helped me, because it helped to take the spotlight off of me.

Bonnie Goldman: They were busy.

Frank Lopez: They were busy. You know, my dad's trying to come back from a near-death experience. And my uncle thinks he's got one foot in the grave. And I'm, like, "Hey, guys! I'm still alive!" You know?

Bonnie Goldman: And they're like, "Oh, we'll take care of you some other time."

Frank Lopez: So, yeah, it did help. Like I said, I started my medication on Aug. 10 of last year. And then about two weeks later, just through casual conversation online on a Web site, I met Anthony. And Anthony and I began to discover that we had a lot of similarities: The same medications, the same allergies, the same specific medical allergies. And so we developed a friendship. And this friendship became a buddy-buddy system.

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To make a long story short, eventually I ended up coming back to San Francisco, and Anthony was in such a situation that it dictated that I would bring him out here. His friends were taking advantage of him, being from a different country and not being familiar. Even though he had been here so many years, the people that he had surrounded himself with were really taking advantage of what was still, in spite of the partying, in spite of the life, was still an innocent heart and mind.

And so I stepped in. And with what limited knowledge I had, I started helping Anthony. Not to toot my own horn, but honestly, it was not a minute too soon. Because his case manager took it upon herself to prescribe a medicine that was clearly documented that he was lethally allergic to. And so when he told me what had happened -- he was going to take the medicine, and I pretty much screamed at him, "Anthony, don't!" He goes, "Why? Why?" I said, "You told me that you're allergic to sulfa-based medicines." And the medicine that they had prescribed, which escapes my mind right now . . .

Anthony Castro: Bactrim.

Frank Lopez: Bactrim is a sulfa-based medicine. And it would have, at the very least, rendered him unconscious, and possibly could have killed him.

Bonnie Goldman: Because your CD4 count was still low?

"I call him my walking miracle because, yes, he was down to 4 T cells, and when we met, he was up to 96. But in the period of 12 months, to go from 96 T cells to 1,023, that's even healthier than an HIV-negative person."

-- Frank Lopez

Anthony Castro: My CD4 was 96.

Bonnie Goldman: But, meaning, at this point.

Frank Lopez: At this point. This was a year ago. And as he mentioned earlier, you know, I call him my walking miracle because, yes, he was down to 4 T cells, and when we met, he was up to 96. But in the period of 12 months, to go from 96 T cells to 1,023, that's even healthier than an HIV-negative person.

Bonnie Goldman: And that's pretty much not average.

Frank Lopez: It's not average. And that's why I say he is my inspiration. And through Anthony, I learned to love someone other than myself.

Bonnie Goldman: Was he your first HIV-positive boyfriend?

Frank Lopez: Yes. But he was not my first HIV-positive experience. He was my first HIV-positive boyfriend. Right now, my preference right now, God forbid that we should ever break up, but there are other complications that go with mixed couples that, in my life, I don't need.

In this process, I just -- everything I do, I do for Anthony. Honestly, my joy is to see him laugh, to see him smile. It gives me life. And you know, having lost Willi, and having refound myself again through Anthony, I'm living a really good life right now. It's difficult. You know, we're both on San Francisco's General Assistance. I went from being a jet-setter to almost being on the streets. And, as it stands, we have to move again. But it's not for financial reasons. We're moving because we are in an environment where drugs are prevalent. And we know that drugs really affect our HIV health.

Bonnie Goldman: Do you take drugs?

Frank Lopez: No I don't.

Bonnie Goldman: Did you used to?

Frank Lopez: Yes. That's how I became infected. I started experimenting with meth at a low point in my life, and I just didn't care anymore. I had risky sexual behavior and the end result was becoming HIV positive. And not just because of the risky sexual behavior, but what a lot of people don't realize is that the use of meth actually lowers your immune system. It destroys it. So even if my body could have fought it off, because I was using meth, it didn't. It just basically welcomed the HIV in.

At this point right now, I never would have thought that I would be in the relationship that I'm in. At the time I didn't want a relationship. But this is one persistent little person, let me tell you. And I'm just, I'm grateful. I do feel blessed.

In the period of a year I have gone from 300 T cells to over 600. I went from a half a million viral load to undetectable. I went from being self-centered to being altruistic. And I went from -- even though I still battle depression, the way that I deal with it now is giving of myself, and appreciating what I do have, and recognizing that what I have is no small thing. And this is the best evidence of it.

Bonnie Goldman: Do you have a lot of support here in San Francisco? Do you have a lot of friends who are positive?

Frank Lopez: I know a lot of people that are positive. I have purposely dropped out of the limelight. I'm Frankie Ninja and I'm known throughout the whole country because of Willi. I could go to any club and get the red carpet treatment. Just walk in front -- "Oh, there's the House of Ninja!" But that's no longer the life I want to live. I recognize that it's a fake life. You have five minutes of fun, and then you have to pay for it for the rest of your life. And the price is not worth it. So I choose now to stay home with Anthony.

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Bonnie Goldman: But you still have parties, dinner parties or gatherings?

Frank Lopez: Gatherings, yeah. We're fortunate that San Francisco has a number of organizations. And a lot of these organizations are nationwide: the Shanti Project, the AIDS Health Project, the AIDS Foundation.

Bonnie Goldman: Do you have any other regimen besides your treatment? Do you eat special things? Take vitamins? Do anything like that?

Frank Lopez: You know, diet is a very important part of HIV health. I have found that as time has gone by, my own body has become intolerant of foods that I love, like pizza. I will still eat it, knowing that an hour from now I'm going to be throwing it up. But, yeah, I try to eat foods that are high in protein, high in vitamins, things like spinach, meat, fish. It seems that since I've become HIV positive the only thing that my body really can handle is seafood. I can eat it with no problem and because it's high in Omega-3 it also helps with brain function.

Bonnie Goldman: And Anthony, are you on antidepressants?

Anthony Castro: I'm on an antidepressant. I'm taking Wellbutrin.

Bonnie Goldman: And are you seeing a therapist?

Anthony Castro: Yeah. Yeah.

Bonnie Goldman: Does that help you?

Anthony Castro: It does help, because sometimes, when you are under all this pressure, you just look at the bad things. And when you talk to somebody about what's going on in your life, and they focus you: "Yeah, but you are no longer doing drugs and you're living with a person -- you're living in an apartment where one of your roommates is doing drugs. So that's good for you. You are not doing drugs. You managed quitting smoking. You managed getting yourself from 4 T cells to 1,024."

But if I keep looking at the bad, I'm just going to get on the bad. But I have my therapist, and she's been wonderful. And she's, like, "Look at all the accomplishments you've been doing. You should be proud of yourself."

Bonnie Goldman: Did your father ever come around to supporting you?

Anthony Castro: No. No. My father, I thank him, that he's the man that gave me life. But that's where it ends. He just gave me life. But everything else, I am because of me and because of my big support.

Bonnie Goldman: And your mom? Are you in touch with your mom?

Anthony Castro: I'm very in touch with my mom now. It's funny, because we're more in touch now, and we share more stuff now than before. I mean, I never finished my high school and now I'm finishing my high school. My mother didn't finish her high school either. But now I tell her, "Mom, you know, I'm doing these classes to teach people about HIV. I'm going to be a facilitator with some of the organizations. And I put myself to study, to finish my high school. I'm doing my G.E.D." My mom got so excited that she said, "I want to go study, too." So we're both finishing doing our G.E.D.

And we share a lot of stuff. My mom is now learning also about HIV. She wants to know what's the disease. She wants to start taking classes about the disease. And she also mentioned that she wants to start teaching people that HIV is not a curse of God; it's not a death sentence. So we are very much in the same plane. Instead of dividing us, like it did at the beginning, it's now keeping us together.

Bonnie Goldman: So what is the source of your strength?

Anthony Castro: This is a big part of my strength. He reminds me not to give up. And I do the same for him.

Bonnie Goldman: So if someone just came to you, a friend, and said that they've just found out they had HIV, what would you tell them?

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Anthony Castro: Educate yourself. I would give them some places where they can go to learn more, Web sites. I mean, one of my best friends, it happened to him not too long ago. And he came to me because obviously I'm very open about my status. I don't lie. I mean, "Hi. My name is --" It's not on a business card: "Hi. Anthony. HIV." But I disclose my status to people. And they know that I know about HIV. I mean, I've been through a lot of stuff.

So, to my best friend, when he told me, "I have HIV," I said, "Well, these things. You know, this is what could happen to you. You need to learn about what a viral load is, what a T-cell count is." And he's been doing fabulous. The other day, he took me to his first appointment with a doctor in San Francisco -- he moved to San Francisco. And the doctor was so surprised that he has everything just like I told him to do it, a file with his latest counts and, "I'm allergic to this," and "This is my T-cell count. This is my viral load."

"It's good to feel that I'm passing on my knowledge to somebody that's going to do exactly the same to somebody else, that's going to do the same to somebody else."

-- Anthony Castro

It's good to feel that I'm passing on my knowledge to somebody that's going to do exactly the same to somebody else that's going to do the same to somebody else.

Bonnie Goldman: Do you think it's a big problem for people who are Spanish-speaking in San Francisco? Do you think that they're afraid to access treatment or access services?

Anthony Castro: Yeah. The thing is, like, Hispanic people -- first of all, they have a problem with being gay. And second, they have a bigger problem with being gay and HIV positive.

Bonnie Goldman: Is that the machismo?

Anthony Castro: Yeah. Machismo. I mean, as long as you are at the top, in a Latin Community it's OK. That's the problem with many, many Hispanic people. And even more, a problem to go to anyplace that they do HIV testing, or they do support groups for people with HIV. Many Latin people, they don't want to go there. They don't want to be identified with HIV, or standing there with the gay community.

Frank Lopez: Some people go so far as to, even after they find out their HIV status, they know that the help is available, but because of the machismo, they will not go. They don't want to be seen anywhere near it. And a lot of that has to do with the cultural background. A lot of it has to do with the religious background.

Everyone has their religious beliefs, and I respect that. But I think that the Church has a responsibility to humanity. Not to endorse what we do, that's our issue with whatever, or whomever or however many we believe in. But I think that the Church has a responsibility to humanity to say, "If you're going to sin, then use protection."

Bonnie Goldman: But don't you think that the religious authorities have a problem giving advice about protecting yourself while you're sinning?

Frank Lopez: Well, it's not up to us to judge. It's like they say: "Love the sinner, not the sin." OK, fine. Well, if you really love the sinner, love them enough to educate them. Use a condom. I believe strongly that if religious institutions would at least say that much, then it would go a long way towards reducing infection.

Bonnie Goldman: And what's the biggest lesson you've learned from being HIV positive? Or from going through these last 10 years that were so hard?

Anthony Castro: Never to give up; never to give up.

Bonnie Goldman: Are you planning to get married? Or is that a very serious subject? Sorry to bring it up.

"Disclosure is something that's different for everyone. And there is no right or wrong answer. There is no right or wrong time to disclose. For me, I disclose up front. And it's my shield to protect me. I don't handle rejection really well. Therefore, if you're going to reject me, reject me now that I barely know you and I really won't care."

-- Frank Lopez

Frank Lopez: No. What's love got to do with that? You know, it could happen. It could.

Anthony Castro: We don't know who's going to be wearing the dress yet.

Frank Lopez: Yeah, right.

Bonnie Goldman: You know, that brings me to this question. I know you guys think that a sense of humor is very, very important to surviving with HIV. What do you have, joke sessions?

Frank Lopez: I have a crude sense of humor. You know, it just depends on the mood. He's the one that wakes up with the pom poms; and he's jumping -- "Rah, rah, sis-boom-bah!" He has a way of taking a negative and turning it into a positive, or joking about something. And he just makes me laugh. You know?

Bonnie Goldman: And how out about being HIV positive are you?

Frank Lopez: You know, disclosure is something that's different for everyone. And there is no right or wrong answer. There is no right or wrong time to disclose. For me, I disclose up front. And it's my shield to protect me. I don't handle rejection really well. Therefore, if you're going to reject me, reject me now that I barely know you and I really won't care.

And for me to say I'm going to take six months, a year, five, 10, 15 years, out of my life and invest them in somebody, you'd better believe I'm going to want something in return. And from Anthony, what I get is joy, laughter, happiness, security, health. And he keeps me on the straight and narrow, sometimes.

Bonnie Goldman: And with that, this interview will come to a close. Thank you so much for talking with me and sharing your story with the world.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.




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