Rev. Andrena Ingram
Rev. Andrena Ingram

I am well known to walk around my community on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia in my HIV shirt. I have worn my shirt at a conference in Orlando (pretty much insulated with church folk). I wear my HIV shirt in supermarkets.

It is my intention to send out a few messages:

  • I am just what the shirt says: HIV Positive.
  • I am what HIV looks like.
  • HIV is in your midst, walking amongst you -- do you know it?
  • I'm not afraid to put myself out there.

Nine times out of 10, all I will get is the side eye.

Yep ... folks will look first at my shirt out the side of their eyes ... then do a quick up and down -- and keep it moving.

Only one of two might ask me what my shirt means.

At the airport in Atlanta, on this particular day, as I came through the security gate, the security officer said (as I went through): "Hey, what's up with that shirt?" I turned around and said: "Oh, I am HIV positive." (And in my head: What, you don't know?) But he was busy, didn't have time to engage him fully ... it was, after all, at the security gate.

Rev. Andrena Ingram
Rev. Andrena Ingram

Nothing I had on buzzed ... but my shirt buzzed his curiosity. Thankful he at least asked the question.

As I stood in line waiting for a "pastrami on rye" (remembering my time in Kentucky the week before, at the writing workshop), there was a young man who couldn't take his eyes off of the shirt.

In my head, I'm thinking take a picture, it'll last longer. Instead, I said: "Hi, would you do me a favor and take a picture of me in my shirt? I'm working on an assignment." He said: "SURE!" As he was taking the photo, I asked him: "Have you been tested?" He never answered my question. His friend had returned from paying for his sandwich.

They walked away, laughing. About what? I don't know.

Make no mistake. HIV is still around ... just waiting to encounter you. Just waiting to engage you. HIV is in your community, in your supermarkets, and yes ... especially in the airports.

Get informed. Know your status. Get Tested. Abstain ... and if you cannot ... protect yourself.

Rev. Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") is a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia, Pa.

Send Pastor Andrena an email.

Read Pastor Andrena's blog Is the Ribbon Enough?