Duane Quintana didn't allow his HIV-positive diagnosis to push him into anonymous apathy. Instead, the Wendell native told the world that he's just like everybody else with his candid documentary, I'm Just Me, Just Like You, which chronicled his and his family's reaction to the disease that infected Quintana at the age of 19. Now an outspoken 27-year-old, full of ideas and a long list of accomplishments, Quintana has taken his message of prevention and the need to get tested beyond the simple donation, march or wearing of a red ribbon (although he has one tattooed on his hand). He used his diagnosis as a reason to launch Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS, or A.L.P.H.A., to persuade Idahoans to know their HIV status.
BW: A.L.P.H.A. has been around for about three years. Has the public's response to A.L.P.H.A.'s activism changed during that time?
When we first started doing our condom raids, we'd go into bars to hand out condoms and we'd get negative reactions. We didn't even feel comfortable asking to go into bars. But now, there are about 17 bars that welcome us and people want the condoms.
How do others respond when you offer them a condom?
It's kind of like preaching Jesus. People have already decided if they need them or not. A lot of guys would say, "I'm not gay, I don't need a condom." Or the girls would say, "I'm not a slut." Or some would say, "I'm married," or "I'm clean."
You've been very open about your diagnosis. Do you face discrimination because of it?
I always feel more discriminated [against] around other people with HIV. It's a very isolating disease. But being an activist, it's even more isolating. A lot of HIV-positive people don't want to be around HIV-positive activists. I think they're afraid you'll out them.
What's new in prevention and testing at A.L.P.H.A.?
Rapid testing. We started it in July. It involves swabbing the inside of the mouth behind the lips and takes about 20 minutes. As the results are about to come in, we say, "You'll get the results in 20 minutes. Do you know what you'll do if it's positive? Do you have a support system in place?" We do risk assessments and risk reduction plans. And we discuss window periods [when someone could be infected with HIV but still test negative]. It's very client-centered. At our testing events, we always have an HIV-positive person on call for counseling. Seeing someone else who is HIV positive who is alive and OK makes you feel better about having HIV. It seems like there's more people getting tested. We've tested just under 200 since July.
When HIV and AIDS were first discovered, it was considered a death sentence. Now, many medical professionals say a person can manage it like a chronic disease. Do you think that if people see HIV and AIDS as a chronic rather than a terminal disease, they'd be more complacent about prevention and testing?
It's hard to say. I don't think the education is out there that it's a more manageable disease. Doctors and people with HIV know it can be managed, but I don't think the general public is on that same page. I think to some people, it is still a death sentence. It's still a huge psychological challenge and an emotional battle. It's important for those with HIV to have that outlook (that the disease is chronic rather than terminal). But as for prevention, it's a different message. It's hard to prevent HIV and have someone test positive for HIV and be OK with it if you tell them that it's a death sentence. You can't tell someone that if they get HIV, they'll die, and then support them once they test positive. Someone who's handling HIV well can really change a person's perspective. We still need to prevent HIV and test for HIV and have compassion for those with HIV.
At one time, people in high risk groups were advised to get tested. Is this still the standard advice?
Everyone should just get tested whether you're at risk or not.