This article originally appeared on Dec. 4, 2012.
I am a Latina, HIV positive, a lesbian and a woman! Four strikes against me, but I am not out!
Many know the struggles that we go through if we have any of these categories with stigma and discrimination! Imagine having these four (strikes) working against you and still trying to show that you are worthy and that you can make it! Well of course we can! No matter what things in life are against us, we must never let anything stop us or bring us down!
I must be real ... I have been discriminated more for being a lesbian woman who is happily married and very vocal about whom I love, "my best friend and partner in life, Lisa Laing."
I am a pretty known international social media activist and when I started social media, I would get around 20 emails a day. Now it is up to 500 some days. Between my emails, blogs, vlogs in my YouTube channel, my Facebook activism page, my two international support groups with people from all over the world in English and Spanish, my website and my Twitter account, it is insane, and I know the more people know me around the world, the more I would be exposed to judgement. I try and help and give hope as much as I can. I find it kind of ironic that some of the same people who I have helped and want me to represent them and fight HIV/AIDS stigma are the ones stigmatizing me for my lifestyle and who I love! This is not right! I feel a sense of betrayal when they tell me I make them uncomfortable when they read me expressing my love for my wife Lisa! I will be damned if I stop being me to make others comfortable! If you cannot accept all of me, do not accept me at all.
I have zero tolerance for ignorance! And yes, I have tried to educate those in places where they were taught we were deviants, and tell them God is love and where there is love, God is there. Some have learned to accept and respect me for who I am (all of me). It is so sad to see people who are being discriminated and stigmatized because they have HIV tell me, "Oh Maria, you are doing God's work, but tainting it with your lifestyle!" (Get a freaking life.) Or telling me that they felt sorry for me until they saw I was a lesbian! I do not need pity from anyone! I am not a victim! I am a woman who is proud and is happy with who she is!
Do not waste your time quoting the Bible to me (which happens every day)! I know the Bible! I am a Christian! You can't choose what you want in the Bible to attack other human beings!! If you are going to tell me that I am going to hell for who I love, then you have to also follow the rules of those times ... be OK with slavery! Get executed for being a non virgin! And get stoned to death for eating shellfish! It is all there. Please learn not to judge others, and not try to be in the position of God (if you are a true Christian, you are breaking the number one rule!! Thou shall not judge).
I really believe loving God is shown through your deeds and having a pure heart and soul.
I am loyal and faithful, and a woman who is a work in progress. I am not perfect! But then again, no one is. I can tell you though that when I am told that they can't wait to see when my corpse is rotting in hell and they hope I pay and die soon, I pray for them and pity them! And I think, "Wow!!!! Is this someone who is actually following Christ with so much hate?" Notttttt!
Live and let live! If you are someone who is being bullied or being hated on or judged by people like this, know you are so loved and worthy! And you have the right to be who you want to be as long as you don't hurt anyone else.
Be proud of who you are and do not let anyone else tell you differently. Sometimes the people with so much hate who say these horrible things are people who have self hate, and their words are a pure reflection of who they are and they need to put others down to feel important. Wish them well, even if they persecute you! I know it is hard, but love transforms hate and I hope I can see the day that people are more compassionate and have more empathy! Words hurt, but we have to develop hard skin and know that we are OK! It is them who have the need to hurt others.
I have been so helpless with the situation of Uganda's "kill the gays bill." A bill proposing that gay and lesbian Ugandans be executed is coming back to Uganda's Parliament -- it could pass at any moment. Worse yet, rumors are suggesting that the bill has been changed in committee and we may not have a chance to see it before it is rushed through. President Museveni once promised that he would not sign this bill into law. With pressure mounting on him to support the bill, only a massive global outcry -- along with our friends in Uganda -- will make him keep his promise.
Last year, we helped stop this bill in its tracks. We need to do it again. Below is some information and a link to a Facebook page about this:
Bahati Logic: David Bahati is the Ugandan MP who first dreamt up the "kill the gays bill" and presented it to a bunch of American Evangelists in 2008. He's even got a Facebook page dedicated to him: "David Bahati Is an Idiot." Not one of ours, though we understand the sentiment. If you'd like to let him know what you think of his bill, you can find his contact details on his parliamentary page, starting with his e-mail address: email@example.com. Must admit, we would like to question his logic, publicly, using the Twitter hashtag #bahatilogic.
I am sad to say this does not happen in Uganda only. I get mail from all over the world where people are scared to come out of the closet! And some have the double stigma -- gay or lesbian and HIV positive. I am glad they can vent to me and tell me that I inspire them in some type of way. I am not even going to lie, I have sadness in my eyes ... that is clear! The weight of so many injustices hurts my soul, but I know I have to be OK in order to help others! I know I can't carry the world on my shoulders. I am just one person fighting and trying to make a difference, not only in HIV/AIDS and the stigma attached to it! I hope that by showing my face as a Latina who next year will be living with HIV for 24 years and a strong woman who happens to love another woman, I can continue to fight all these multiple battles before I burn out. I can tell you this: As I wrote about it my last blog, no matter what we go through in life or are going through, there is hope! There is life! There is love! There are so many beautiful things, like that beautiful lotus flower or that darkness that produces the brightest light! Like the butterfly story that I never get tired of sharing! As many know, I see myself as a butterfly. <3 A little caterpillar/work that is a butterfly and wherever I stop, I leave beautiful colors and love, I shine and I fly and fly. I will not let anyone cut my wings! Not even myself.
A man found a cocoon for a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no farther. Then the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. Something was strange! The butterfly had a swollen body and shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and deformed wings. It was never able to fly. What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand, was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the small opening of the cocoon are God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If God allowed us to go through all our life without any obstacles, that would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. Not only that, we could never fly. <3
With much love and light as always,
Maria T. Mejia