Bold, Brave & Beautiful…

By Jorge. Diaz, MSW, Clinical Social Walker, jorgeadiaz2010@gmai.com

We have been in this fight for over 30 years and although we have made advances, shame and stigma and the high rates of HIV infections seems to be the narrative of Latinx men. The CDC reports that 1 in 4 Latino men between the ages of 18-29 who have sex with other men will contract HIV in their lifetime. Meet, Steven, Carlos and Jorge, Adelante’s December’s cover and far from a statistic. Our stories are different but with many similarities, we all became HIV positive before the age of 21. No one wants to be a statistic, yet we create a stereotype of who contracts HIV. One could look at Steven and say he fits the “circuit party queen” stereotype, yet his story of being in a committed relationship and exploring love with his first boyfriend ended with an HIV diagnosis, it’s a far stretch from the stereotype of who contracts HIV. Then there’s Carlos, at the age of 19, he navigated and juggled his dual identities of identifying as Latinx and “Queer A-sexual, self-loving.”  Carlos recalls a conflicting time, not knowing which one of his only two partners brought HIV to his life. We all had that moment of questioning: what did we do to become HIV positive? HIV made us reflect on our sexual behaviors and challenged our identity. The reality is: HIV can happen to anyone. It appears that embarking on young love and believing that we were “safe” speaks of our youth, inexperience and our search for love and a sense of belonging.

Many share Steven’s  tough question “do I stay or do I leave the partner that brought HIV to my life?” For Steven, there are no secrets, no shame or stigma and at a point when Carlos was finally freeing himself from the heterosexual normative and ventured out to explore his identity, he faced his diagnosis, leaving him feeling scared and confused while Steven felt powerful and I lost myself in mine.

Disclosure is difficult, disclosing to our mothers was liberating. Both Steven and I prepared ourselves for a year and waited until being undetectable before disclosing, while Carlos disclosed to his mom the same day he was diagnosed.  In a moment of despair, Carlos felt like he had no one else to call but his mom.  

Steven is a hopeless romantic, however HIV taught him to put himself first, while Carlos learned that HIV is larger than him and his story and I learned to rebuild what HIV destroyed. HIV changed our lives, challenged who we were but it also gave us a purpose to live, a purpose to fight, and a purpose to be.

When we reflect on life then and now, it’s amazing to see our growth. Carlos celebrates 10 years while Steven approaches 6 years and I celebrate 18 years of living with HIV. When you look us at now, we are strong and successful men. But when we came face to face with HIV, we were young and inexperience. Our mission is larger than us and we have reached a level of liberation and freedom in order to LIVEwith HIV.  

Steven continues his advocacy work as an Outreach Coordinator at The LA LGBT Center and will receive his bachelor’s degree in Public Health; Carlos continues his advocacy work and serves as an HIV Commissioner for Los Angeles County and I’m currently the Director of Prevention Programs at Bienestar Human Services. We will continue to share our stories in hopes to end the shame and stigma associated with HIV and provide a sense of hope to those processing their new journey.