Here is my keynote address to the LGBTQ+ Health Care Conference at Indiana University on March 23, 2023. A 20-Year Journey of Living with HIV: Recommendations for Healthcare Providers.
There are moments in life when you have to listen to the many messages being sent to you. On February 10th, I celebrated 20 years of living with HIV. I posted a video on my social media about my 20th Anniversary. Since that posting, as well as my commitment to remain open and visible as a Queer Black Man Living with HIV, I received messages that visibility matters.
A week ago, I received a text message from a student needing to talk me. The student wasn’t in a position to have a phone conversation so he asked if he could text me about a situation. The student had a sexual encounter in which the condom came off. The student was concerned about their risk for HIV. They heard about nPEP (non-clinical post exposure prophylaxis) and wanted to get more information. We exchanged several text messages. nPEP is 28-day medication that reduces the risk of HIV after a possible exposure. It was a Sunday evening in Bloomington, so the options were limited. I encouraged him to go to the emergency room since the 72-hour window was shrinking for the treatment to be effective. The student had to advocate for nPEP since some was unaware of nPEP. The student was finally able to get a doctor to prescribe nPEP and was able to start it within the 72-hour window. The student reached out because he knew I was open and knowledgeable about HIV.
The next day, I noticed on LinkedIn that someone I didn’t know liked my post about my 20-year anniversary. They also shared a comment, and I responded back. Shortly thereafter, I received a long email about how my message touched him. He was HIV positive but not very open. The stigma caused him to be very silent about his status. My visibility was reassuring to him and he wanted to stay connected. Again, another incident in which one never knows how one’s visibility will impact someone.
A few days later, just before closing my office, two students dropped by my Center. In the introduction, one of the students indicated that he was HIV positive. That led to an interesting discussion about his interest to be more visible in Bloomington and on campus. He shares his story in Indy but wanted to be more connected in Bloomington and on campus. He is also in a fraternity and want to do a collaborative HIV program. As someone who recently was diagnosed, he sees how his voice can impact others.
I share these three stories because they were all unexpected and a result of being visible about my HIV status. It also reminds me of journey and next steps. I am excited about the upcoming PhD process and conducting research on HIV and college students.
PhD Journey Begins in July 2023
July 2023 begins a new journey for a PhD in Leadership & Change at Antioch University. I am very excited about this and look forward to researching about HIV Prevention & Care for college students. The program is designed for professionals to complete within four years and continue their current professional endeavors. The Graduate School in Leadership & Change is a very unique program and can’t wait to begin the process.
I have talked on several occasions about the gap in research around college students and HIV. I strongly feel it is a missing link in HIV research and Higher Education research. Considering that 21% of the new HIV cases are in the 16-24 age group, this is a critical issue for Higher Education. I look forward to exploring current research on this age group and defining/re-defining culturally sensitive HIV prevention messages and ways to provide support for college students living with HIV.
Grappling with Blackness
People continue to grapple with our blackness — why? I laughed when the article discussed how some argue that because Harris’ parents are Jamaican and Indian, she has no connection to slavery and can’t be African American. Wow, the lack historical knowledge and understanding of the Africa diaspora. Slaves were “seasoned” in the Caribbean before coming to the US.
Real tired of these discussions – Senator Harris is part of the Black community, she is African American, and she is also Indian American. She embraces all of her identities but also realizes that in this country she is and will be perceived as black. It is problematic to have purity tests for Blacks or African Americans. If we all took a DNA test you will realize that most of us are multi-racial, most of us are decendents of immigrants – whether we are 1st, 2nd or further generations.
I was thinking this morning – I am a 2nd generation American. My maternal grandmother was from the island of St. Barts in the French West Indies. My maternal grandfather was born in St. Croix, at that time it was Danish island. My paternal grandmother was born in Grenada in the British West Indies. My paternal grandfather was born in Panama. Based on the “current standard” of “race/ethnicity” neither of my parents would be Black or African American because we have no slave ancestors. Not only do I have slave ancestors – I come from a strong lineage of Africans in West Africa – Ghana, Nigeria and Southern Africa. And yes, like many I also have European ancestry. The majority of my DNA is African. My lived experience is very Black. I grew up on a Black island. So it’s disheartening when I hear anyone question one’s identity. I am 58 – I know who I am and I know my heritage better than anyone on this earth. I am sure Senator Harris at 55 knows her heritage better than anyone else. I trust her knowledge of self over anyone else opining on her identity.
Excited to announce my new role at Indiana University
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Bruce E. Smail will be the interim director of the Indiana University LGBTQ+ Culture Center and special assistant to the vice president beginning Jan. 2. Smail, who has several years’ experience in organizations focused on equity, diversity and inclusion, replaces Doug Bauder, who is retiring after leading the LGBTQ+ Culture Center for 25 years.
This position is a dual appointment reporting to the vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs and to the assistant vice president for strategy, planning and assessment in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.
For decades, Indiana University has been recognized as a leader among higher education institutions for its efforts to support faculty, staff, students, alumni and others who identify as LGBTQ+. The LGBTQ+ Culture Center — created 25 years ago and administered by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs — represents a focal point of this work, serving as a place where people are given the encouragement and resources to build meaningful relationships across differences and open their minds and hearts to matters relating to diversity and inclusion.
“Bruce is an outstanding advocate for critical issues involving the LGBTQ+ community,” said James C. Wimbush, vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs; dean of The University Graduate School; and Johnson Chair for Diversity and Leadership at Indiana University. “He will play a critical role in leading the assessment and planning necessary to meet the needs of students and the IU community for the next 25 years.”
Smail brings an extensive professional background in matters relating to equity, diversity and social justice to Indiana University. Most recently, he served as deputy director of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. Before that, he held the positions of director of the Cross Cultural Center at the University of California, Davis; director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Resource Center at the University of Colorado; and diversity education specialist at Indiana University Bloomington.
“More than his professional accomplishments, Bruce has the passion and heart to make a difference,” said Yolanda Treviño, assistant vice president of strategy, planning and assessment for the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. “He is someone who will bring to the forefront the many voices that are too often silenced. His experiences and commitment will prove instrumental in helping to lead us into the future as we create new opportunities to ensure students successfully reach their educational goals.”
During his interim director appointment, Smail will implement programming support services to address issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersectionality and social justice, as well as interact with alumni and donors to better understand the needs of the IU Bloomington LGBTQ+ community over the next three years. In addition, he will manage and administer the LGBTQ+ Culture Center’s budget and supervise staff, graduate assistants and volunteers.
In the special assistant to the vice president role, Smail will assess the IU Bloomington campus’s five culture centers: Asian Culture Center, First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, La Casa Latino Cultural Center, LGBTQ+ Culture Center and the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center.
Smail will also work with all of IU’s campuses to coordinate universitywide LGBTQ efforts and the spaces provided.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to return to Indiana University,” Smail said. “Cultural centers play a unique role on college campuses by targeting, supporting and advocating for specific communities, as well as helping the campus understand the community and build strong allies for that community. My own life experiences and various career positions have prepared me well for this work and for the work that lies ahead to enhance diversity, equity and community for all.”
Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs
It’s World AIDS Day 2019
As a person living with HIV since February 10, 2003 (almost 17 years); I pause today to: remember the many lives lost (including friends and colleagues), encourage us living with HIV, celebrate the many advances in HIV, and acknowledge that zero new transmission is very near.
I encourage you to know your status – get tested today! Seek treatment if positive – the latest research on U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) demonstrates our contribution to Getting To Zero. We all need to break down the stigma!!!
I will always continue the fight to End HIV no matter where my life journey takes me!!!! ALL OF US must commit to this fight because we are all touched by HIV in some aspect.
World AIDS Day 2018
Today is World AIDS Day. Remembering the many lives lost, my brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS, and those impacted by HIV/AIDS. As a person living with HIV for almost 16 years, I pause today to reflect as well as encourage you to know your status, know all your options – PrEP, U=U, condoms, clean needles – end Stigma, zero new cases. Let’s End HIV/AIDS.
Vote – Today’s Election Day
It’s Election Day — If you haven’t voted, you have all day to cast your vote. As President Obama said at a rally, “Don’t Boo, Vote!” It is our responsibility as American Citizens.
At the age of 9, I was involved in two campaigns. My mommy, Juanita Smail was running for Senator for St. Croix, VI and my cousin, Dr. Melvin Evans was running for the first elected Governor of the US Virgin Islands. I remember campaigning with mommy and Dr. Evans. While my mom did not win the Senatorial seat, she was one of the first women to run for Senate. I believe there was one (maybe 2) woman who one that year –
Senator Ruby Rouse, I believe was the first elected women in the VI Senate. My mom ran again in 1972 but also loss. Her passion didn’t stop her involvement in politics. As an educator, she continue here career in education until she ran the campaign of Governor Evans for the Delegate to Congress in 1979. She then joined him in Washington DC as his Research Assistant from 1980-82. While Congressman Evans was not re-elected, he was appointed the US Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. Ambassador Evans died while serving in this position. My mommy on the other hand stayed in DC to finish her Master’s in Public Administration and returned to St. Croix and became the Superintendent for St. Croix Schools. She died while serving that position.
Both mommy and Dr. Evans gave me an opportunity to be active in politics from a very young age. I remember in 1980, my first election to vote in, I was faced with a dilemma. As a registered democrat, I didn’t like the democratic nominee. I remember voting for John Anderson who was an independent candidate. While at that young age, I thought an independent could win. Well our country is so much a two-party system and if you aren’t in one of those parties — winning is extremely difficult.
President Obama is the first Presidential Candidate that motivated me to donate multiple times for his candidacy. Voting is so much a part of our responsibility and our right. So many people fought and died for us to have the right to vote. We owe it to the shoulders we stand on to vote. If you haven’t voted through absentee or early voting — GET TO THE POLLS EARLY. VOTE TODAY. You have the power to make a change — Let send a message about our power today. I did my part with absentee voting in MD. Now do your part.
By the way, the picture of mommy was her campaign picture.
In memory of the many lives lost to 9/11/01. A horrific morning that I remember vividly, just a few miles from the Pentagon. The fear, the chaos, and the many lives lost will never be forgotten. Rest In Peace. I visited the memorial in NYC and you could feel the sacred grounds —- it was an eerie feeling, humble, solemn yet an amazing tribute.
This Will Be A Labor of Love
After taking two weeks to recoup from my coast to coast journey, I finally started the writing process for my book. This is very exciting step but also a long journey. This morning, as I was writing the elements of the first chapter, so many emotions resurfaced. The first chapter begins with my doctor telling me “I have some good news and some bad news.” I felt like I was back in 2003 and reliving this experience again. I really did not expect all those feelings and emotions to resurface, but they did.
This book will be a labor of love and will reveal so much about me and my life. I am reminded often that my story is relevant and important to share. There aren’t many Black men who have shared their story of living with HIV. I am writing this book for those of living with HIV; for those with family and friends living with HIV; and for folx to have a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges of living with HIV.