*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed to remove any identifying information.*
I am uncertain from whom I contracted HIV, but I was diagnosed when I was only 20 years old. I have often been asked who it was and told that I could prosecute them to the full extent of the law for not disclosing their status. My reason for not doing so was that it would not change anything for me. I would still be living with HIV and I would have just ruined someone else’s life who may not have even known they were positive at the time. Becoming positive was a reckless mistake on my part, fueled by insecurity and a willingness to please people who only wanted to make sure that they were satisfied. At the time, I had only slept with two people who I did not use protection with upon their insistence. While logically I knew this was a mistake, I didn’t want anyone to dislike me and, more importantly, I wanted to feel like someone could actually look at me and find me attractive.
HIV has affected my life in many ways. When I was first put on Atripla®, my medication to combat HIV, I remember it was a very hard regimen to follow. At the time, I was still in college full-time, working 50-60 hours at a job to make ends meet and had joined a service fraternity in which I maintained two offices. The side effects from the medicine were debilitating at first. I remember one time having to get up at 4 a.m. for a fraternity meeting after just getting home from work around 12 or 1 in the morning. I was hardly able to make it to my phone to call out because of the crippling vertigo I was experiencing. Along with side effects of vertigo and constant fatigue, pursuing of many of my dreams have been complicated or even compromised as I have had to maintain a job to keep some form of insurance for my medication and doctor visits. Life goals like pursuing my dreams of being a working actor are put on hold as graduate school will probably only allow me to maintain a part-time job at most and booking an acting job is difficult unless I am sure that I can have health benefits or be able to afford outside health insurance. This has made many decisions extremely hard and more complicated to make than it is for many peers my age in the same situation.
As someone living with HIV for almost six years, I wish people living without that disease would understand that it is not a death sentence or a punishable crime. Being a part of the LGBTQ community, I have already witnessed enough unjust discrimination against my peers and have read of many instances of discrimination against people like me who live with HIV. Yes, many people contract HIV through their own mistakes, but this does not make them bad people or people undeserving of love and compassion. Any other terminal illness in existence is not treated with such cruelty and inhumanity as that of HIV. This action needs to be stopped and people like my peers and I need to helped, not hunted.