Todd Heywood, diagnosed with HIV in 2007, is a journalist and an actor who credits Lansing Community College (LCC) in Michigan for giving him his start in both fields. And now, he is campaigning to become the first gay, HIV-positive trustee in the school's history.
Heywood's campaign got a boost on Oct. 8 with the announcement that he has been endorsed by the Political Action Coalition (PAC) of the Greater Lansing Clergy Forum, a coalition of 49 faith leaders from predominantly black churches.
Heywood is one of seven candidates running for two seats on the board, and is optimistic about his chances. He has name recognition as a local journalist, activist and blogger. He points to his advocacy during his previous time on the board, from 2001 to 2003, when cutting administrative waste shifted $1 million back to the classroom.
"At the end of the day, the decisions made by this board have to be based on how they benefit the students," he says. "Having been a student there, I have a better sense of what it's like to be a student, watching the board and saying, 'Wait a minute -- why are you increasing my tuition again?'"
Heywood expects good voter turnout due to Michigan's high-profile gubernatorial and senate races, but says that doesn't necessarily spill over to races like his. "About one in five who vote in the big races will cast a vote for the bottom-of-the-ballot, non-partisan races," he says.
When he was diagnosed with HIV, he made the deliberate decision to be open about it. "I'd lived my life publicly and honestly for 20 years," he remembers. "I'd be damned if I was going to hide this!"
Though his coming out on the 2008 National Day of Silence enabled some good conversation, he also points to proof of continued stigma, like when someone won't shake his hand because they know he's positive. He credits organizations like the SERO Project for confronting the fear, ignorance and judgment that leads to stigma.
"We can all take steps to lead in our communities, whether we're living with HIV or diabetes or we're completely healthy," Heywood contends. "We have an obligation to build up our community and make it better than it was when we got there."
Sue Saltmarsh has worked in the HIV/AIDS field for over 20 years, the first 10 as an herbalist and energy therapist at Project Vida, the last six as a writer and copy editor for Positively Aware magazine. She is now a freelance writer and editor and is also able to devote more time to her passion as founder and director of the Drive for Universal Healthcare (DUH).