Dear Danny Pintauro,
I am going to share with you a lesson which I had to learn the hard way. When in the public eye, whether by choice or circumstance, be mindful of your actions and statements because you can easily derail the work of others before you.
I first started to share my story about living with HIV when I was newly diagnosed on June 6, 2011. I knew that I wanted to share my story with the world in order to help others who might be like me. A year after YouTube, I started to write more. Soon, I was sharing my opinions with the world. The danger of this is that people will take what you say as fact. Critical thinking, although it is common sense to question everything you read and see online, isn't a skill that the vast majority has. There were times when I stepped on toes and needed to be rebuffed. That is the beauty of our community of advocates -- we help each other!
Before long I wanted to use my voice to advocate against the criminalization of HIV. During the course of the Michael Johnson trial I learned two valuable lessons. In the aftermath of the case I chose to take a lot of time off from writing and HIV advocacy. I needed to learn exactly what my role was in the community and in the world.
The first lesson that I learned is that you cannot be all things to all people no matter how hard you try. I wanted to advocate for Missourians living with HIV. The conundrum is that there were many people involved in the case who were HIV positive, which included Michael. The second lesson which is one that I feel you need to pay attention to. It is very easy to say something in the heat of the moment or in this fast-paced world of social media which can inadvertently derail the message of the community.
I had to learn how I fit into the global picture of HIV/AIDS activism. When I chose to voice my opinion to nearly half-a-million social media followers, I need to take the time to ensure what I am saying in working for the causes rather than setting the cause back. People have been working to better the lives of those living with HIV long before I arrived on the scene. While I have something to say, if I am not careful those things can be just has harmful as helpful.
There are countless activists, such as Mark S. King, Sean Strub, Mathew Rodriguez, Charlie Ferrusi, Olivia Ford, Peter Staley, Josh Robbins and Kevin Mahoney who have taught me that my voice is a tool. As with any tool, it can construct or deconstruct anything. Each of these people are using their voices in different ways for one common good.
I haven't talked about it until now, but I definitely owe Sean Strub and the HIV criminalization community an apology. I should have been more mindful of my place in the movement and how I was using my voice. While I stand by what I said, it was the way I said things that potentially hurt the movement. Additionally, I owe an apology to Michael Johnson. I was a person who set out to advocate for you and in the end I failed in that regard. That is something that I will always carry with me.
Danny, I do not know if you will read this but I hope that you do. I do not know anything about you other than what you have chosen to share with the world. As one crystal meth addict to another, I would simply say to take care of yourself. When we choose to share our lives with the world it can take a lot out of us. Crystal meth is a beast only those of us who have fallen down the hole can understand. Recovery is possible!
Danny, if you would like someone to work with you on shaping your message regarding how to tell your story in a way which compliments the work of the HIV movement, there are many who would be glad to assist you. It is your story and only you can tell it. Please be sure that how you tell your story doesn't set back the hands of time regarding the stigma and shame that the world casts upon us living with HIV and AIDS.