Posts Tagged ‘coming out of the closet’

Adrian C

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This year has been a big one for me. Firstly, in late march I learned my status as a positive person. A few months after, the caseworker that did my intake told me about the NMAC Youth Initiative. I applied and was awarded a scholarship to attend the conference in October. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by like-minded, young, professionals and individuals. While at the conference I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas, Patrick, and Benjamin. It was an honor to be brought on board to ThePozLife. After I returned home I had many ideas and seeds to plant for my community. In late October I met with the executive director of the Valley AIDS Council, James Judkins, and a caseworker to discuss some ideas I had for our area. One of those being to launch a support group targeted to but not exclusively for HIV positive people in the Rio Grande Valley: VPOS, Valley Peer Outreach and Support. VPOS is one of my projects for 2015 and I am eager to get that up and running strong for the New Year. I created a Grindr and Jack’D profile to conduct my own outreach and to answer any questions my community might have regarding HIV and resources in the Valley. I started these profiles early November and have received a positive, no pun intended response from the men in my area that have approached me. Through these outlets, I’ve been able to reference some of these men to testing centers and provide basic and detailed knowledge of the virus. On World AIDS Day, December first, I had the pleasure of attending our local AIDS Memorial Quilt presentation at the University of Texas Pan American and met a few more members of the Valley AIDS Council. Who presented me with a job opportunity as a Risk Reduction Specialist where I would be conducting HIV and STI screenings, providing counseling to members of the community that reach out to us, and conducting outreach activities. I’ve applied for the position and have made it to the final round of interviewing; I am anticipating a decision sometime early January. In looking forward to 2015 I have also applied for a scholarship to attend AIDS Watch in DC and am waiting for a response. You can learn more about AIDS Watch here: http://www.aidsunited.org/AIDSWatch-2015/Scholarship-Information.aspx
2014 has been such a roller coaster, sometimes difficult, but I’m happy to say that I not only survived, but thrived! I’m very excited to see what I can accomplish in 2015. Especially now with all that I’ve started and alongside the boys at ThePozLife.

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Patrick participating in youth-led session at 2014 USCA

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Reviewing the CDC’s HIV surveillance report for Texas in 2013.

USCA Youth Lounge

Hanging out in the Youth Lounge at 2014 USCA

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AIDS Memorial Quilt at The University of Texas Pan American on World AIDS Day.


Thomas Davis

This year has been HUGE for me! I am truly grateful for every experience I’ve had. I started the year releasing my video of me “coming out” as HIV positive. I wasn’t sure what it would look like to be openly living with HIV but I knew it was something I wanted to do. After sharing my video I attended YGBLI summit in Atlanta and connected with Patrick Ingram and Adrian Hobson. I then got more involved with Aids Project Los Angeles and their young men’s group Empowerment. As the year progressed Empowerment changed to R3VNG, which stands for Reshaping 3 letters for the Voices of the Now Generation. In addition to changing the name APLA also provided funding for R3VNG to create a talk show focused around HIV education and other issues that surround gay men of color. Towards the end of the year I attended USCA in San Diego as a Youth Ambassador, which was an AMAZING experience! At USCA The POZ Life team expanded to get a wider range of representation. After returning I worked on a project with Reach LA where I choreographed a dance that told a story about the struggle between two people to deal with HIV being introduced into their relationship. It’s the first piece in what I hope will be a series of creations centered on living with HIV.  I was also picked by The Human Rights Campaign as a youth ambassador and will be involved with them until 2016. This past December I spoke at an event for World Aids Day at the New Testament Church here in L.A. For the past few weeks I’ve been prepping to speak at Time To Thrive in Oregon at the start of 2015. Most recently I was featured in Healthline’s Portrait of HIV. Outside of my involvement with HIV I’ve spent the last year teaching at Lula Washington Dance Theater and training/touring with the professional company in preparation for their 35th anniversary in 2015. This past month I also started touring with a company called The Lucent Dossier Experience and did a performance in Las Vegas.

http://www.healthline.com/health/hiv-aids/portraits

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm6f1PhG5eo&list=UUionyFnRXZVHQwv1gege_PQ

http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/hrc-foundation-introduces-youth-ambassadors

http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/more-than-numbers-adoption-foster-care-and-the-lgbt-community

http://www.bawn.tv/truthbtold/

Thomas and Patrick

Patrick and I at USCA

Rev

The boys of R3VNG

Thomas spirits Thomas


Benjamin Di’Costa: 

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One year ago this month I made a resolution that 2014 I would go “All Out”. Since then almost everything in my life has changed.

A year ago I was okay with the normal daily routine in the organization I worked for. Now everyday when I wake up for work I find myself all over again and pursue my passion every day. A year ago I was content with my life. Now I’m living a meaningful life.   A year ago I wasn’t speaking out, let alone blogging. Now I’m proud to be apart of ThePozLife, as well as other endeavors.  A year ago I had few people reading my words (other than some vapid work emails). Now I have over 100,000 active followers, and my work have been read by over half-a-million people in 151 countries this year.

A year ago no one was interested in following me on Twitter or Facebook or Google+. Now I have over 10,000+ people who interact with me via those platforms.

A year ago my inspirations were Angelina Jolie, Laverne Cox, Pedro Zamora, Janet Mock, and others like them. And I’m still inspired by them. A year later I’ve been in meetings guys, been featured on international websites, and established organizational relationships with them and dozens of similar people who have helped shaped the lives of those living with HIV in meaningful way.

A year ago I hadn’t presented anything. Now I’ve presented 20 presentations: 5 abstracts, Facilitated 2 nationwide panel discussions, and featured on 3 magazine covers.

A year ago I had a spreadsheets full of goals, and I would beat myself up when I didn’t achieve those goals. Now I live with one goal at a time.

A year ago we strived to make everything perfect. Now we embrace the imperfection of my daily life.

A year ago I was a dorky guy living in South Florida. Now I’m given the opportunity to travel the country and meet young advocates like myself and collaborate with the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I’ve given away hundreds of free hugs on this tour so far.

A year ago there was a considerable amount of discontent in our lives. Now I’m happy, and when we I look in the rearview mirror everything is different.

A REASON FOR THESE STATS?

I’m not trying to impress you with my “accomplishments.” Rather, I want to impress upon you the power of a year. As human beings, we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time (e.g., six-pack abs in two weeks), but we drastically underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two.

Most of the above mentioned “accomplishments” weren’t goals I developed at the beginning of the year. They just happened, organically, as we worked hard to add value to other people’s lives. Thus, I’ve discovered that when we add value to other people’s lives, everything else tends to fall into place. The big life changes don’t happen overnight. Give yourself some time. Put in a lot of effort and keep at it. You’ll be surprised with what can happen in a year.


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Patrick Ingram and Ryane Hill at the 4th Annual ADAP Leadership Awards

Patrick

2014 has been a year of progression, beauty, success, and identity. This year started with trying to discover a way of growing PozLifeofPatrick to be faithful to my goals from my resolutions for 2014. After the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative’s 2014 Policy and Advocacy Summit I discovered how that would look. PozLifeofPatrick took the necessary steps and evolved to ThePoz+Life.

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“Sexy, smart and HIV+” exhibition in Zagreb, Croatia.

By bringing on the unique personalities and positive attributes of others living and affected by HIV we are now able to reach places we have not been before. At this year’s USCA we asked the tough questions, networked, educated people on what we do, and really worked alongside other young people to have our needs and issues addressed. At the ViiV Community Summit in Miami, FL we learned about the great community work ViiV Healthcare does, new information on advancements in the work to end the HIV epidemic, and the work that is taking place in our communities. We were apart of their 1st Youth Summit were we refined our leadership skills, fellowshipped with other great young leaders and influencers, and gained new collaborations which will start in 2015.

In 2015 we look forward to working alongside great organizations, projects and individuals who are ready to see the end of the HIV epidemic. Personally, I am very excited to have been able to represent the many Young Black Gay Men living with HIV through a variety many projects. They took the form of filming a commercial, interviews, magazine features, Op-Ed pieces, being apart of “Black Voices,” and even being featured in a photo exhibition aboard. This year has been full of challenges as I have continued to battle depression and PTSD, working full-time, being a full-time student, having people relying on me as a primary source of support, managing the newly formed ThePozLife, and trying to live my own personal life. Although there were many challenges trying to balance all of these responsibilities the rewards have been fruitful and the fact that I can touch and connect with people who are both HIV-Positive and HIV-Negative continues to speaks volumes.

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In 2015 I have a few request.

  • Let’s focus on not always bragging about what we do but instead give your platform to someone else for five minutes
  • Seek self-improvement and self-development
  • Give back through volunteering and donating to causes specific to one’s you are affected by
  • Stop being selfish and collaborate with others, also support social justice movements that realistically impact us all
  • Share the work of ThePozLife and always keep us in your prayers and thoughts

The most important piece of this all is to understand that regardless of how you feel or think that your voice and lived experiences does matter!

 

See you at NAESM in January!

Positivity is everything

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So I landed in New Orleans around 11:30 am local time and was full of nervousness, anticipation, and a desire to complete my mission. My mission, which I chose to accept would be to represent people of my organization , NMAC’s Youth Initiative, and most importantly people living with HIV. My goals were to network, gain knowledge, and make connections that could help my community of Fredericksburg, VA and overall the increased number of people who are HIV Positive. You will notice for a first time I did not take any pictures of me on this trip. This is because attending this conference was not about me but more about the work that needed to be done. I was focused and ready to accomplish my mission. On the flight in I had already noticed so many of my friends and colleagues from the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia) and was excited and relieved that I would know some people there.

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Arriving to the Hyatt Regency Conference Hotel I was amazed and thought to myself “wow USCA knows how to impress!” Arriving at the hotel I had made my way to the elevator and after ten minutes of trying to figure out how to operate it made my way up to my hotel room. While heading up to the room I turned around to the amazing view of The Superdome. It was gargantuan and a reality check that I had arrived. The room I was to reside in for four days was amazing. After spending the afternoon showering, grabbing lunch, and resting it was now time to head downstairs for the youth reception. It was there that I met amazing young people who had the same interest in ending this epidemic as I do. Words cannot describe the feelings of joy that I had being in a room with people who were also down for the cause. After that reception things just took off. From a dinner presentation about resilience from awesome plenary discussions about ending AIDS in the south, Perspectives on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Engagement Challenge, Personal stories surrounding HIV, and Implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Plenary sessions were

75925_10100476512901135_193260318_n1237426_509191059164700_2050760092_ogreat and I truly benefited from hearing personal stories. Mondo Guerra from Project Runway was present and took the time to speak and take pictures with us (thanks to Advocates For Youth for working to set that up). He thanked us for doing what we did and told us to stay vigilant in getting the word out and having those important conversations about HIV. What really shocked me was his persistence to stay and talk with us despite behind the scenes people trying to move him along. That spoke volumes on how big this opportunity was for me and the other scholars. I know Duane Cramer from our initial meeting at this year’s DC Black Pride; however, he continues to amaze through his friendliness and hard work.

The workshop sessions for me were the essential meat and potatoes of this conference. On the first official day of the conference I attended a session on Comprehensive Sexual Health Education as HIV Prevention, which was very interesting to be in. I had no idea that many states still only taught abstinence. I know that in my own high school career comprehensive sexual education was briefly mentioned while abstinence was more emphasized, but wow six years later and still no major moves. That was very disappointing to hear; however, we were told to reach out to our state representative and even the school board (which has huge power) to push for more comprehensive sexual education in our school systems. On day one we had a welcome to the whole Youth Initiative which went over roles, responsibilities, and expectations. This also allowed us additional time to get to know more about us and also what we were expecting from the conference. That session wrapped up day one and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on my homework which I was so behind on. IMG_1484

The start of day two went awesome. I awoke got ready for the day and made my way down to a very informal roundtable discussion for people living with HIV. The topic that was presented by the moderator Alex Garner of NMAC was “How do we bridge the intergenerational gap?” I was one of the very few young people in the room and I have to admit that I was so nervous and overwhelmed. In the room was Peter Staley, one of the original founding members of ACT UP New York, Oriol Gutierre of Poz.com and Poz Magazine, and Mark S. King successful creator of Myfabulousdisease.com and the web-series “The Real Poz Guys of Atlanta,” just to name a few. I was so humbled to be able to be in the presence of such great people. Most importantly I was able to listen to their stories, their wants, and most importantly their needs. What I got from this standing room only session was that many of the more experienced advocates were tired and were ready to pass on the torch to the next generation. Bear in mind many have been fighting the long hard battle for more than 30 years!! I also was given the floor to share my experiences and my thoughts, which I would have never imagined almost two years ago when I first learned my status. Peter Staley said something that really has and will continue to sit with me. He stated that it was depressing to see the HIV stigma among gay men. Every gay man who lives with HIV has experienced this before. It is heartbreaking to be treated differently from people in general let alone your own community. From the room I took away many connections and also support from strangers who turned quickly into my new extended family.

1017031_10200804696179231_2032299150_n The next session was one I was involved in. I was moderating a panel and audience discussion on Storytelling Using the Media & Cultural Arts. I was very honored that I was given the ability to moderate and lead this discussion as well as work alongside other intelligent and committed youth initiative scholars. The presentation went really well and we discussed how social media like Facebook ,Twitter, Blogging, and Vlogging can be effective tools in storytelling. Cultural arts are also very important. Taija, an Alaskan Native who was a panelist of this session shared with us how storytelling in her community is important. She shared a video with us, which served as a great example.

I also want to give a huge thanks to my other panelist Derek Hernandez and Felton Beeks who provided great feedback and knowledge surrounding social media tools that can be utilized. That evening we had the pleasure to meet Dr. Jack Whitescarver, Ph.D., NIH Associate Director for AIDS Research and Director, Office of AIDS Research. We all sat around informally as he told us the story on how he first was introduced to HIV/AIDS. It was very beneficial and I am greatly appreciative of the time Dr. Whitescarver took out to meet and talk with us.

On the morning of day three I attended a session on Engaging People Living with HIV in a Changing Environment. I am not going to lie I was a little late to the session due to engaging and networking with someone who is a fan of the pozlife stopping me (networking happens often in spaces like this). I slide into the session to notice my colleague Venton Jones of The National Black Gay Mens Advocacy Coalition on the panel of the discussion. My work doing the pozlifeofpatrick was highlighted by Venton and he asked me to tell everyone in the room about my story. So I quickly gave a synopsis of how I found out my status and why I created the blog (for you!) and before I knew it I was being followed by AIDS.GOV, the amazing Josh Robbins of Imstilljosh.com! A huge thank you to Venton Jones for giving me that opportunity to discuss the pozlifeofpatrick and the effectiveness it has been in engaging both HIV Positive and Negative individuals. In the afternoon I attended two sessions on Strategizing and Mobilizing to End the Epidemic and another session on PrEP Messaging. Both sessions had participation by youth initiative scholars and I was gaining so much knowledge from the points that were discussed. I particularly loved the discussion about PrEP. Start talking about innovations and expanding the prevention toolbox and I am there! It was a great discussion which really focused on the importance of PrEP and the role it will play going into the future in regards to decreasing new infections of HIV.

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On day four all the youth initiative scholars met and we closed out the session. I attended the lunch plenary session but left early to prepare to depart for the airport. For me it was a bittersweet moment. I have never really been to a summer camp I actually enjoyed; however, for four days I felt as if I was on top of the world. Where else but at my first USCA conference was I able to network with so many movers and shakers in the field of HIV, but most importantly be surrounded by like-mined young people who will be alongside me to take the torch and continue the fight. On my flight back I tried to think about what I really enjoyed about The U.S. Conference On AIDS overall and I would have to say outside of the sessions it had to be the people. For me it was fantastic interacting with such great people. From Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC spending as much time as he could around the youth initiative scholars to the NMAC staff providing guidance and a very unofficial form of mentorship throughout this entire process. To Viiv Healthcare for having fantastic people speaking and engaging with us. Also, the Magic Johnson Foundation for being apart of the process and speaking on the last day about the importance of what we are doing as future leaders in our communities. Over a huge thank you to The National Minority AIDS Council for creating this initiative for me to be apart of. USCA 2013 had other major sponsors that helped to create an event of a lifetime for me. 1270341_509194375831035_858202610_o

I am already in the planning stages to attend USCA 2014 in San Diego, California and am excited to be apart of that conference. I know that more work has to be done to improve the treatment cascade so that more individuals living with HIV have undetectable viral loads. That takes place by having more prevention with people living with HIV. It is important to engage the community and getting them involved in the fight against HIV. Also, that ACA is right around the corner and will transport healthcare to a new destination we have never seen before. Leaving USCA 2013 I know that many understand the importance of PrEP to help reduce HIV transmissions. At the next conference I will be sure to bring empty luggage so I can take as many things as possible from the exhibition area. I appreciated the condoms, lube, pamphlets, posters, and other things that can be distributed in my community that needs these resources. I will always keep the youth initiative scholars of 2013 very close to me. In four days I developed friendships and camaraderie with these special young people I know I will be working with closely in the future.

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Photo on 1-31-13 at 8.16 PMSo since I was a child my parents always had a saying.  “For every action there is a reaction,” was something that they use to tell me before I got my rear end tore up due to a million and one things I did wrong.  I never truly understood that phrase and what it meant until I reached adulthood.  As a child I thought that my actions would never come back to haunt me nor would I ever be affected by them.  I was definitely wrong to think that.

Nowadays I can honestly say that my past is quite tainted.  I am for sure not perfection in any form and way.  I think our lack of perfection is something that makes us special; however, with the things in my closet I am pretty sure that a run for President or any major public office is not in my near future as of right now.  As I have said before, life is about living and experiencing and if we live with no incidents, tragedies, or being in bad or compromising situations we are not living like we should.  Personally, I would rather vote for a President who has been through life and knows about struggle and has learned from past messy behavior. Look at Wendy Williams… if you like her or not you have to give her credit where it is due.  She has dealt with substance and relationship abuse in her past and also her ability to get the scoop or “T,” on anyone; however, now she is on a globally syndicated talk show, has had a very successful radio career, and is expanding in other endeavors.  Again, put aside if you like her or not and just appreciate where she came from and where she is now.

To me there is something about imperfection that is attractive.  In some cases it sucks that as a 24 year old I still hear others talking about my past in the background.  If it was not for the mess I went through in the past I would not be the strong person I am today.  Experiencing pain really does strengthen you mentally.

So with all of that said let’s get to the point of this blog entry…. Over the past year I took a look at who I was as a person and where I wanted to be.  I found the strength over 2012 to truly look into myself and discover who I am and what a gay and HIV positive life will look like in the future.  I came to terms with everything I have gone through and what I expect to go through in the future.  I came to terms with everything I have gone through and what I expect to go through in the future.  You see I know that life in general is not easy so I really do not expect it to be a cakewalk being gay and poz.

For the many people that truly know me hey know that I am not an outspoken about my religious views; however I will now tell you how I feel.  I feel like God gives each and every one of us a purpose in life.  He never places us into a battle in which we cannot overcome.  On January 26th, 2013 I made the decision after finding myself to come out publicly about my HIV status.  This decision to be honestly came from me being tired of hiding.  I was annoyed by people texting and asking me if I had AIDS and was going to die.  I felt so misunderstood and was simply ready to set the record straight.  With my action to come out of the closet again I knew that a reaction would take place and I was not far from the truth.  A few days after I received a phone call while I was at work and it was my mother.  After catching up she asked me about the blog and her and my dad alerting me that they were beginning to receive phone calls asking about my blog, YouTube, video and overall health.  SNAPPP, with me being all spontaneous and fast acting I forgot to give them the heads up.  They definitely were not happy with me.  I apologized and truly understood where they were coming from.  I did for a while felt very defeated.  Everything I do is with the intention of making myself happy but more importantly making my parents proud.  I felt like I had hit a wall and for the second time I considered dropping everything and disappearing again.  Talking with my camp (close friends who are truly there) they gave me the strength to stay focus and to remain in the fight.  I was reminded that there are always going to be haters out there and seeing that I took the step to make it public it is too late to try to hide.

With that said. It is a shame that family members have gone behind my back and to my parents to question them about something so sensitive.  Imagine how you would feel if your child was dealing with something and you were helpless and could not be super-mom/dad and save the day.  My parents deserve the parents of 2012 award for their strength to overcome so much negativity.  Although they have gotten over the hurdle it is still a very sensitive and emotionally raw subject. Please, come to the source if you have questions.  It boggles my mind why people think it was smart to call my parents.  If you ask me I think it was to start trouble. Be smart, if you have questions come to me because I will be more than willing to answer all your questions.  After giving it a day my parents and I are back on better terms and I told them that they did not have to tell anyone anything they did not feel comfortable talking about.  They know to give my number to any family member calling and direct them to come right to the source.

So far so good!  I have had so much support form the community and friends.  It feels so good to know that what I am doing is making a difference.  You have no idea how fulfilling it is to receive an email or Facebook message telling me how my video or blog posts are making a difference.  We all go through tough times but the most important thing is how we overcome the difficulties to learn, gain experience/miles, and grow.

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With Love,

Patrick+