I began working in HIV prevention over 15 years ago. The field has changed quite a lot, and hopefully it is soon coming to an end with a vaccine and/or cure to the virus. I often get questioned as to why or how I started working in this field right out of high school. A lot of people assume that I have HIV or that I lost someone close to me with HIV. Neither of these are true, but the actual reason still has the same founding in passion. Growing up in Texas, unfortunately, Christianity was abundant. Christianity taught people that sex was bad, being gay was a sin and led to laws being made making anal sex illegal. Even in my high school, the health class was taught by an uptight coach who very brief explanation on sex was, and I quote “don’t do it, until your married.” Gay marriage was still not legal in the United States at this time, so he was telling me to abstain forever. As a young gay man, I knew this was all bullshit. There is nothing wrong with sex, as long as it is consensual, there is nothing immoral or unnatural about being gay either. I wanted people, specifically gay men to feel empowered about themselves and their sex lives.
So I began volunteering for an organization in Austin called the AIDS Services of Austin. They had a group called the Austin Men’s Project that was focused on safer sex outreach and education for gay and bisexual men. I began volunteering with this group. Going out to bars and handing out condoms and lube. Encouraging my fellow brothers to not hold back, have an enjoyable sex life, but safely, so as not to get or spread any sexually transmitted diseases. Encouraging guys to get tested regularly and make sure they know their own status as well as talking openly with their partners about it too. Over time HIV prevention has expanded, from abstinence and condoms to PrEP and PEP. The harm reduction model is a beautiful thing and helps meet people where they are. While working in the HIV prevention field for over 15 years, I have met some of the most amazing people. My colleagues have the same passion for preventing this disease from spreading that I do. We all have very different backgrounds and reasons why we began working in this field, but our commitment to helping others is always our objective. These colleagues of mine have shown me the amount of love, care and compassion in this world is far greater than that of fear and hatred. We all are saddened by the rates of HIV cases in the country and even more saddened to know how HIV disproportionately affects communities of color. PrEP is a daily pill to prevent HIV, but many who need it, are not able to access it either because of cost, inadequate health care or stigma.
Since I bagan working in this field, I have lost a few friends and colleagues to this disease. I have also been the one to inform others that their HIV status is positive, and explain to them how their life isn’t over, and they can live as long as they want to as long as they maintain good health and take their medication. In all reality, HIV is now a disease akin to Diabetes, as long as you take your medication, see a doctor regularly and take care of your health, there is no limit to what you can achieve.
Until there is a day when HIV is cured, the outstanding people who work so fiercely to talk and support others with prevention, outreach, testing and care will maintain their vigilance in helping others. I am proud to stand with them.