Hydeia Broadbent began speaking publicly about her diagnosis at the age of 6, and it was far from her biggest challenge. Born with HIV, she was abandoned at a Las Vegas hospital and adopted at 6 weeks old. She was diagnosed at age 3 and was not expected to live past 5.
Broadbent not only survived but thrived.
By 12, she had appeared on several national television programs including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America and been featured in publications such as The New York Times and People.
Now 33, she spends her time traveling across the county promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention and fighting HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
In honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10, amfAR spoke to Broadbent about disclosing publicly at such a young age, HIV disparities among women, and the hardest part about living with the virus today.
What made you decide to share your story so publicly at such a young age, especially when there was so much ignorance and stigma surrounding the disease?
I wanted my friends who were HIV positive to be able to share their story and not feel any shame. A lot of my friends were not public with their status. I also had a very supportive family. I was allowed to be open because my mom wanted me to know that HIV was something that happened to me but did not define who I was as a person. I never felt any shame because it was made very normal for me. I was in the room with my mom when she would talk to my doctors. I went with her to HIV/AIDS conferences. So I have always known about HIV and have never been scared of it.
When you were diagnosed, HIV was a death sentence. I understand you saw more kids die from complications of the virus than survive it. How did you maintain a positive outlook on life?
I think it was how I was raised. My mom taught me never to blame anybody. I didn't get to feel sorry for myself. I never saw her stress about going to the doctor or get upset if I had to stay in the hospital. So I think that helped with my attitude a great deal.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about HIV?
I feel like people are not aware. I know a few who still think that it's a gay disease. Then for women, what I've found is they don't look at their dating pattern as putting them at risk for contracting HIV. We use condoms in the beginning, and then we get comfortable and stop without ever finding out the person's HIV status. That relationship may come to an end, and then we start dating again, and we start the same pattern. That's not healthy. Just because we might not be having one-night stands doesn't mean we're not putting ourselves at risk for HIV.
Biologically, women are more susceptible to HIV infection through heterosexual sex than men. Most women are contracting the virus this way. How do we empower women and girls to protect themselves?
I think it's really about advocating for self-love and self-awareness and understanding that we really do have the power to say no or to demand condom negotiations during sex. I think a lot of women don't feel they have power in that situation.
African-American women account for more than 61 percent of new HIV infections among women(CDC). What is driving that disparity, and how do we reduce it?
There's a shortage of marriageable black men. For example, black men outnumber white men in U.S. prisons. Black women are less likely to date outside of their race than black men, so our pool of eligible men is smaller. We are sharing partners unknowingly. I think also it's us not being educated, not speaking up, not feeling like we can talk about condoms in our relationship. There are so many factors that affect a black woman that you can't really pinpoint one specific thing that it may be.
I know you've suffered from depression. At one point, you stopped taking your medication. What inspires you to keep doing the work you are doing?
It gives me purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. I believe I became run down and overwhelmed, so I had to take a break. But I really love doing my activism work. I'm just a very transparent person. I believe that serves a purpose when dealing with HIV/AIDS, because a lot of people are still ashamed to disclose their status. I have to do whatever I can to use my life for some sort of good.
You broke down when you appeared onThe Oprah Winfrey Showin 1996and she asked about the hardest part of living with HIV. More than 20 years later, what is your answer to that question?
As a single woman living with HIV, the hardest part is getting people to understand that I am lovable, that I am a person that you can be in a relationship with, have children with without passing HIV on to my child, that I can have sex with a man and not transmit the virus. So that is the hardest part of my life right now.
Hydeia Broadbent is one of amfAR's Epic Voices featured on the Countdown to a Cure website.