Growing up in San Francisco, HIV/AIDS made a lasting impact on my life as a gay black man. I grew up in an era long before PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, an effective treatment-as-prevention option for men who have sex with men.). I grew up in the era of Pedro Zamora and movies like Philadelphia. This era was horrifying and left me with many doubts my life expectancy as a gay black man. As a closeted 14-year-old, my view of being a gay man in San Francisco was colored with visions of death and illness. An entire generation of gay men in major cities like San Francisco and New York were dead or dying.
The United States government and our political leadership at the time did nothing to even acknowledge, let alone address, the epidemic. Officials initially coined the disease “Gay Related Immune Disease” or GRID, and the world left us to die. I grew up assuming my life would end like that of the generation that came before me — outcast and without support.
As I grew up, I attended my first San Francisco Pride after being kicked out of the family house. I saw what our community was really like: resilient and strong despite overwhelming oppression, which gave rise to generations of LGBT activists and allies. As it became apparent that activism runs deep in my blood, my first efforts were to fight the spread of HIV by educating and organizing the African-American community so that they know that someone who looked like them cared.
Over the last many years, I became an African-American face in the fight against HIV/AIDS because there were no such examples in my youth. I stand in support of my brothers and sisters because HIV/AIDS is still a major issue in communities of color (African American and Latino) which have HIV acquisition and transmission rates that higher than other ethnic communities. I work actively to educate and bring resources into our communities to do my part to end this disease.