We chatted with Lady Quesa'Dilla, who's feeding queer black and brown children guacamole -- and self-love.
I got to see the 'dirty side' of AIDS in the '80s and '90s," remarks Rafael Abadia; "Younger people really haven't. I don't think they see the urgency." Rafael came close to death several times in those early years of the epidemic, and has taken numerous HIV treatment regimens. He's also been involved in advocacy, battling stigma, homophobia, AIDSphobia and fighting for access to care for others. Nowadays, he's still tirelessly working to raise awareness of HIV in Latino communities in his home state of Florida.
"I was humbled when 15 years after my release from prison, I was invited back as a guest speaker to share my story and offer the inmates hope for a new way to live," writes community organizer, longtime HIV survivor and recovering addict Marina Alvarez. "I am most proud of the relationship I've developed with my family, especially my children. Despite my past, they respect me for who I am today. The love we share continues to motivate me."
When Awilde took her first HIV test, her doctor told her she didn't have anything to worry about because she didn't fit "the demographic." She wasn't an IV drug user, she was 47, which was a low risk group and she while separated, and she had been married for years. But none of that mattered when she tested positive in 2001. Awilde, who lived in the Dominican Republic most her life and can speak limited English, discusses the difficulties of navigating the health care system with a lack of bilingual health providers.
If you have seen an 18-wheel truck with a huge condom on the side driving through your town, then you may have seen Marco Benjamin. Diagnosed with HIV at 27 while working at an architectural firm, Marco left that job within a year to pursue a life of HIV activism, and hasn't looked back since.
"There was something in me that said, 'You need to tell these women your story,'" Bernadette Berzoza remembers. "I think a lot of women were thinking like me: 'That's my life, I have to live it. It's not risky behavior.'" Today Bernadette volunteers helping people newly diagnosed with HIV navigate the health care system. This mother and grandmother is the co-founder of an HIV and health education organization that it is still in existence. It's a far cry from the years following her 1989 HIV diagnosis, when she told barely anyone her secret.
At 21, Dee not only received an HIV diagnosis, but came out as a transgender woman, struggled with drug addiction and survived a breakup with her boyfriend. Thankfully, with the help of support groups and friends, she was able to overcome it all. In this inspiring interview, Dee talks about living and surviving HIV as a transgender woman; her parents' journey to accepting her for who she is; and the importance of speaking out about HIV/AIDS.
"While Doña Carmen was publicly applauded and much admired and supported for going public about her HIV status ... afterward she was reviled, humiliated and made the subject of much negative gossip." A former Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador tells the heartbreaking story of her friend Doña Carmen -- at one time known as the only openly HIV-positive woman in this country of 12 million.
In 1990, like most of society, Efrain, then 25 years old, believed that HIV was not a heterosexual man's issue -- until he tested positive. Because stigma was so staunch, he only disclosed to his immediate family, refused to date and lived in silence about his diagnosis for five years. It wasn't until 1995 that he found the courage to disclose to others. And once he did, his life completely turned around for the better.
When Damaries Cruz was first interviewed by TheBody.com, in the fall of 2008, she'd just participated in a groundbreaking HIV awareness campaign for Spanish-language television. She was a well-known speaker and HIV educator with a large Florida county health department. She seemed to be doing all right health-wise after 17 years of living with HIV, and had never taken HIV meds. But soon after, Damaries' health began to decline. Thus began what was, for her, a grueling process to decide whether to start HIV meds, and which meds she would start with.
It took Beatriz Diaz, a mother and grandmother from Fresno, Calif., several years to begin to tell people about her 1992 HIV diagnosis. But when she did: "I could've kicked myself for not speaking up sooner," she says. "There are people out there who care, and I didn't give them the chance to show it!" Now she speaks publicly about HIV in her area -- and brings her grandkids along for the ride.
Esmeralda was 25 when her husband died of AIDS complications, leaving her HIV positive, with one young baby and another on the way. Now 37, happily remarried and the mother of two teens and an infant son -- all HIV negative -- Esmeralda makes a living supporting other women living, and giving birth, with HIV. In this two-part interview, Esmeralda talks about her life, emigrating from Mexico, and getting pregnant when armed with knowledge about HIV.
The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy got Enrique Franco kicked out of the Army. It also, oddly, was the reason he found out he was HIV positive. As Franco explains in this moving interview, diagnosis turned his life upside down, but he's now standing tall. "This is my body, this is my life," he says. "I'm not going to stop living. I refuse to put my head down."
When Mondo Guerra was chosen to be on the hit reality show Project Runway, his main goal was to live out his dream of being a successful fashion designer, not be a poster boy for HIV. But one emotional challenge compelled him to disclose on air that he had been living with HIV for the past 10 years. In this exclusive interview with TheBody.com, Mondo talks about living with HIV for a decade, overcoming fear and stigma, and the disclosure that was seen around the world.
"I share my story, so that communities can see that this can happen to anyone. It impacts anyone. It has no borders," writes Evelyn Hernandez. In 1993, instead of Evelyn enjoying the honeymoon stages of being a newlywed, she dealing with not only her husband's HIV-positive diagnosis, she was dealing with her own. Evelyn speaks to us about loss, overcoming stigma, finding love again and the importance of giving back to other Latinos.
When Wanda was diagnosed with HIV in 1995, she was completely shocked; she thought she had always practiced safer sex. Like many people who are newly diagnosed, fear began to take over. But instead of letting that fear consume her, she educated herself about HIV and eventually became an activist lobbying in Albany, N.Y., on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. This mother of one talks about the importance of securing housing for people living with HIV/AIDS and why the AIDS community can never give up hope.
Frank Lopez and Anthony Castro
In 2000, Anthony, a 19-year-old immigrant from Chile, discovered he was HIV positive. With an initial CD4 count of 4, he was given only six months to live. Anthony's partner, Frank, was diagnosed in 2007. He had been living a party lifestyle after a long year of heartbreak and financial frustration. Anthony and Frank tell us about their experiences living with HIV; how they met and fell in love; and how they cope with the cultural stigma they both face for being positive and gay.
In 1989, this Cuba native received a mandatory blood test in hopes to gain her U.S. citizenship, but was utterly shocked when she was told her test results came back positive for HIV. Lucia, who was also pregnant at the time of her diagnosis, opens up about being pressured to have an abortion, the long journey it took for her feel at peace again and why speaking publicly breaks down the walls of stigma in her community.
Joseph rides his Harley-Davidson motorcycle as often as he can. Harley riders don't often discuss living with HIV, Joseph says -- though he guesses that others are infected, since he says there are some in the Harley community who use injection drugs. Diagnosed in 1995, Joseph has a supportive family and friends, and says he's currently experiencing one of the happiest times of his life."
As a 6-week-old infant, Nina contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. Now an adult, she has dedicated herself to HIV awareness and prevention. She's even traveled around the U.S. with a group of HIV-positive young people, telling her story and encouraging college students to practice safe sex and get tested for HIV.
When James was diagnosed with HIV in 2001, he was "in the prime" of addiction to crystal methamphetamine. "At that time, I just decided that if I have HIV and I'm going to die, I might as well just keep partying," he remembers. "I didn't tell anybody about it, and I continued ï¿½ keeping my feelings and emotions inside." Once he went into recovery and started taking care of his health, James found his passion in HIV/AIDS volunteer work. In this interview, James recounts his journey from drug abuse and denial to full acceptance of his HIV status -- and full support from his loved ones.
Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga
"One of the biggest challenges I am facing is achieving my goals of getting married and having babies in a country like Bolivia that denies the HIV epidemic," Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga writes. A rape survivor, Gracia struggled to come to terms with her diagnosis and disclose to her family and friends. She eventually co-founded Bolivia's first organization for people with HIV, and became an international advocate. At this point in her journey, however, starting a family is her greatest desire.
"[HIV] was just something added on the plate that I had to learn how to deal with," says Jose Ramirez. Jose survived many childhood traumas before his HIV diagnosis at 17. Now, 10 years later, he teaches LGBT youths in similar situations how to keep their sex lives safer, healthier and, yes, sexier. "I talk to people, I help people and it helps me," he says. "That's like my therapy."
Janice Rodriquez will tell you that her childhood was extremely traumatic-both of her parents died of AIDS, she was molested by her grandmother's boyfriend, was teased for being transgender. At the age of 16, she started using drugs and became a sex worker. But when she tested positive, she tried to turn her life around with the help of New York City's Housing Works, but it wasn't easy. In this touching piece, Janice talks about discrimination, her battles with homelessness and beating her drug addiction.
In the short time since his diagnosis, 25-year-old Ahmad has had many ups and downs, but to hear him tell it, many of those life changes have been for the better. Although being gay and HIV positive is frowned upon in the communities of his birth, he's found a supportive community in San Francisco and his diagnosis has inspired him to take better care of his health.
"The transgender community is the most misunderstood population in this [gay] community. And if they have HIV, they can't even go get services because of the way that they're treated, "says Ginger Valdez. Ginger, a self-proclaimed drag performer and AIDS advocate has been living with HIV for over 22 years. In this first-person perspective, she discusses being a trans teenager in Puerto Rico, testing positive and the transphobia and homophobia she has endured from others.
"I'm an activist," Sylvia Vázquez-O'Shaughnessy proudly proclaims. "I love putting my foot up somebody's ass for someone else." Back in 1983, when her first husband and eventually Sylvia herself received AIDS diagnoses, Sylvia was faced with culturally incompetent medical staff and barely understood what was happening.
Ed Viera, Jr.
"I'm doing damn good," says Ed Viera, Jr., who was diagnosed with HIV in 1987. "I exercise, I eat right, I sleep, I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I don't do drugs." That's a far cry from Ed's youth in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he became HIV positive through unprotected sex in the early 1980s. "Every time I had sex, alcohol was always involved," he recalls. It's those early experiences that led Ed to become a substance abuse counselor, and an advocacy leader in his community.