This last Mother's Day was 10 years since I told mom Donna and the rest of my family that I was HIV positive. At the time, we didn't know much about HIV; all we could think about was AIDS and death. We were also bewildered to think that I would even be vulnerable to such a disease.
I had just graduated two years prior from high school in a small Idaho town where I excelled academically in school, attended church three to five times a week, had never done a single drug and still had my "V" card (virginity).
Not much has really changed since high school. I am the same guy except now I have HIV and very little to no confidence. Even just a month prior to my diagnosis, I remember strangers making comments about me having such great poise, especially for someone of such a young age. I remember talking with my mother an Easter or two after my diagnosis, about the fact her and Dad went coffin shopping for me earlier that week and began payments on my funeral. We have learned a lot over the years. We have learned that I will more than likely be here a while longer and payments on a funeral are maybe not necessary any longer.
I have also learned how important it is for me to share my story of HIV because it benefits everyone. I have worked for many years now, just under 10, toward preventing HIV transmission, encouraging individuals to "KYS" (know your HIV status), along with and in the hopes of creating a compassionate community for those living with HIV, their loved ones and those at risk of HIV.
This is extremely important. If people can live in a community that supports them in getting educated, tested and even testing positive with HIV, we can have fewer people testing positive for the infection, more openness in sharing our stories with HIV--whether we are infected or affected--and people living longer and better with the disease.
This is the way we combat stigma, which I believe is our biggest risk to allowing us to become vulnerable to HIV.
I think it is simple. Talk about HIV and AIDS with your loved ones and maybe even those you don't love. Don't just talk about it, but be honest about your fears and concerns. Don't be judgmental. Be open and continue to remind yourself that we are all human, even people with HIV. We don't need some huge movement or riots; we do not need large, powerful media campaigns. All we need is everyone talking about people with HIV, remembering the people who are infected. We need communities of faith embracing not only with words, but by perception. We need parents not to fear what their children may be doing but appropriately preparing them for life and what it has to offer.
I will never get my virginity back, and I will always have HIV. I am getting my poise back not only because I am working on myself individually, but also because I have met and have experienced the things that need to happen in order to combat this disease. You can combat something without eradicating it by understanding how to cope with it better. This community has offered me so much as an individual with HIV; even though to many I may just be that guy they met once with HIV.
I encourage you to talk about HIV with compassion and passion. Get on your Facebook and your MySpace, send a text message and even Tweet. Begin these conversations.
Duane Quintana, oldest son, older brother, uncle, grandson and friend, is the founder and executive director of Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS (a.l.p.h.a.). Wednesday, May 13, Quintana will celebrate the past decade at a fundraiser for a.l.p.h.a. at 7 p.m. at Bad Irish, 199 N. Eighth St., 208-338-8939.