A recent article, “All Grown Up with HIV” in POZ magazine written by Associate Editor, Crisitina Gonzalez, chronicles the stories of four young people living with HIV. The youth range from ages 17-27. Two of them have lived with HIV since birth, while two contracted it through unprotected sex.
Each person shares very different experiences with both living and coping with HIV. Lafayette Sanders, 24, contracted AIDS prenatally and struggled with stigma and denial throughout his adolescence. He eventually rose up as a musician, youth advocate and AIDS educator. Currently pursuing a college degree Angelikah Demonikah, 27, contracted HIV through unprotected sex, and has relied on the strong support of family and friends to cope with her diagnosis. David Goode, 24 was excommunicated by his family at age 13 for “coming out” and subsequently, had no stable home. He contracted HIV through unprotected sex, and is still coming to terms with seeking treatment and his diagnosis. Paige Rawl, 17 contracted HIV prenatally. When her peers learned she was HIV positive in the 6th grade she was ostracized. She managed to move past the stigma to become a model high-school student and teen advocate.
While they all have distinct stories – each of them describes the stigma and loneliness they suffered due to limited support and education within their greater communities. Education, they say, is vital for both young people that live with HIV and their peers. Peer groups provide understanding and acceptance both of which are essential to developing the confidence and responsibility entrusted to a young person living with HIV. To this end, all of them stressed the importance of youth voices and young people as advocates, supporters and powerful educators:
Positive people my age need to be out there. You can’t have a 48-year-old man talking to kids about this. No one listens. You need someone like me, someone who is living with [HIV]—then it becomes more real.
I feel it is important for people, especially young women and heterosexuals, to start talking about HIV.
If I had met someone my age who was also positive, it might have changed things a little bit. I might have played it safe, protected myself. It would have been more real to me.
[We need] more education among youth in the U.S., and there should be more support groups. Youth need to see themselves reflected in what’s taught, in the information they are given.
So let’s speak out in support of these brave young people and the many millions who are living with HIV around the world. Tell your stories and join the discussion:
- Has your life been affected by HIV? If so, how?
- Where did you learn about HIV and safe practices?
- Do you think that there is enough education in your school or community about HIV and AIDS?
- How can we make access to education about HIV better?
- How do you view the role of youth and youth advocates in the context of HIV education?
Anusha Alikhan is a communications professional with over five years of experience working in external and internal communications in a variety of areas including international development, women's rights, health, technology, law, and media. Anusha specializes in creating innovative online and print publications and developing integrated marketing campaigns designed for diverse audiences. She has a law degree and a Master's in Journalism.