Visibility Matters

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.

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