Billy Willis

I am LIVING with HIV and I am thriving. I was diagnosed with HIV after my ex-fiance cheated on me a few months before we were to be married. I could have very well lived in denial and continued my life with untreated HIV, but I knew that I could not live my life in shame or deny the truth of the matter. It would have been easy for me to blame what happened on the infidelity of my partner, but in all honesty we had never even had a conversation about the dangers of HIV, nor had we been properly educated about it during our early years in public education. After some time I came to the conclusion that I must use my story to inspire others and show the world that people with HIV are in fact normal people, who just happen to be infected with a treatable virus. I started a social/support group for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in my area. We have been each others support systems, shared medications when insurance issues arose, and also volunteered at local events. I believe through volunteer work and visibility we are helping combat the stigma against HIV. I enjoy speaking at events and educating people on HIV related treatments, prevention, and the laws criminalizing PLWHA. I am very proud of my friends, both positive and negative, for creating a stigma free space that ensures we are all HIV equal. One of our goals is to not only ending the stigma against HIV, but also help advance the cause of decriminalizing HIV. I dream of becoming the first HIV positive politician in my state of North Carolina. Our stories are all different, but we do have common bonds and I encourage you to share your story or start an honest conversation about HIV.

Stigma and Bullying: The Connection

Growing up, I was always the loner kid in school. I wasn’t popular. I was the kid that stuck to myself, with my head always in a book. I also wasn’t exactly what most people would consider to be well off financially. I wore what clothes I had and understood that they had to last as long as possible. My jeans had holes in the knees and were so short that they could be considered high-waters. My tennis shoes were practically falling apart on my feet. Growing up like this, especially with my anti-social personality, you can imagine how I was picked on and bullied throughout school.

Finally after graduating from high school, I thought that the bullying had stopped. Oh, how I was wrong.

I had a break from the bullying for a few years, right up until I came out as being HIV positive. Then the full force of how cruel people in the world could really be was thrust into my life. I began to get comments thrown in my face: “You got what you deserve!” or “It’s your fault you’re dirty now!” I began to have different individuals refuse to use the same bathroom, or even the same toilet as me. I was condemned from using public restrooms. I even had people that I work with tell my higher ups that they refuse to work with someone who is HIV positive!

In what world is it ever right to make comments like these or to treat people this horribly? It isn’t right in any way, shape, or form. It angers me when I have to go through this, and even more so knowing that there are 1.2 million other Americans that have to go through the same thing, if not worse. This is a clear view of how bad the stigma of HIV is.  Simply put, HIV stigma is bullying.

We wouldn’t make derogatory comments towards our husbands and our wives. We wouldn’t bully our own children. We wouldn’t put up with the bullying of any of our loved ones. So why,then, would we allow ourselves to bully complete strangers just because of their HIV status? Weren’t you ever taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, shut your mouth because no one wants to hear it? I was. And, I know there are a few of you who were as well, but I guess you just don’t think that it applies to those feelings that you might have with those of us who are HIV positive. For some reason, you view us as a threat that will somehow bring harm to you or your family.

I have news for you. We are no different than you, your wife, your child, your brother, your sister, your aunt, or your uncle. We are no different than any other person in this world. We are not out to hurt anyone, nor can anyone be hurt by being friendly or kind to us, or by allowing us to carry out our everyday tasks without persecution.

I fully believe that we need to make America the country that it was always meant to be. We are supposed to be a progressive, inclusive country, but yet we stigmatize those who we deem dirty and tainted; they are outcasts in our society. We take pleasure in tormenting those that we deem just a bit different from the rest of us. THIS NEEDS TO STOP!  Why are we doing this? How would we feel if this was happening to our sons or daughters, our moms or dads, or even to us?

We can fix our problems through education and advocacy.  By just having a little bit of self-awareness, we can not only change stigma, we can end it.

I look forward to a day when we no longer have to worry about what some stranger will say to or about us when he learns of our status.  I look to a day when I will no longer have to worry about being told that someone doesn’t want to work with me due to my HIV status and a day when just being who we are will be accepted everywhere we go. One day, I believe that we will no longer have to fight to be treated equally, and the struggle to eradicate HIV stigma will be in the past.

Will you join me to see this goal through? Do you have the courage to stand up and put an end to stigma? Do you have the compassion to be able to take a stand for the rights of someone else? I do. And I surely hope that you do too.

Our Newest Director

A Positive Tomorrow is proud to introduce, and welcome back onto our team, our new Financial Director, Jonathan Walker! Jonathan was born and raised in the wonderful Chicago suburbs in 1985. After graduating high school, he attended university in both Illinois and Colorado to obtain a couple of degrees on various ends of the spectrum from Philosophy of Law to Finance and Accounting. In addition to his degrees, Jonathan holds professional licenses for Property and Casualty Insurance in 25 states. After meeting Tanner, he became one of the founding members of A Positive Tomorrow, and now serves in the capacity of Financial Director. Through sound financial planning, he strives to support Tanner in making A Positive Tomorrow the nation’s go-to organization for the HIV Positive community.

We are honored to have with us another of the original members of A Positive Tomorrow, and are looking forward to accomplishing great things with Jonathan as a member of our team!

Blogger’s Wanted!

blogger_writers_blockDo you have the desire to help those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS?  Would you like to be part of a growing team that covers the latest HIV/AIDS news and personal stories?  Would you like to be able to share your story about HIV/AIDS with the community?

If you would like to become a blogger/writer for A Positive Tomorrow, please reach out via e-mail to brian.ledford@apositivetomorrow.org.  In you e-mail, include your name, contact information and a brief bio.  Once we have this information we will be back in contact to have you submit a sample of your writing.  If your sample is approved we will welcome you on board as one of the newest bloggers and writers for A Positive Tomorrow and set you up so that you may start sharing your own works.

Topics may include current events in the HIV/AIDS community, news about breakthrough treatments and procedures, personal blogs sharing your own story and your journey while living with HIV/AIDS.  Being as A Positive Tomorrow is a non-profit organization, we will ask that you refrain from publishing political based articles/blogs and that all information is fact checked and sources provided in publication.

If you have any questions, please message our Facebook page directly or send your questions via e-mail to brian.ledford@apositivetomorrow.org

Fighting Stigma

HIV/AIDS-related stigma can be described as a “process of devaluation” of people either living with or associated with HIV and AIDS. This stigma often stems from the underlying stigmatization of sex and intravenous drug use—two of the primary routes of HIV infection.

Everyone living with HIV has faced stigma at some point or another.  This can come in many forms and can be expressed in may ways.  Most of the time stigma is fueled by lack of education about the subject of HIV and AIDS.  This starts with the education that youth receive in school (or lack there of) but also from within the home.  Many of the parents today remember the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s and, from that, they have formed an ill based opinion about HIV and AIDS.  It is these biased opinions that have been passed on from parents to their children. Unless we end the cycle, we will not be able to end the stigma.

Examples of HIV/AIDS stigma may include:

  • The sharing of personal belongings such as towels, toothbrush or comb
  • HIV living in the environment outside the body for seven days
  • Mosquito bites
  • HIV living in sweat and can be transmitted through sweat
  • The sharing a bathroom or toilet with someone who is infected (as some people actually still) believe.

Each of these cases presents a myth that some still choose to believe because they remain uneducated on the subject.  Ignorance about HIV is one of the leading causes of the stigma that surrounds it.  HIV-related stigma and discrimination are pervasive and serve to only fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. There is a need for increased levels of funding dedicated to strategic, coordinated, and comprehensive programs for stigma and discrimination on reduction.

So how can you help in the fight against HIV-related stigma?  Well the best and most sure way is to know the facts.  Educate yourself on the subject of HIV/AIDS and know what puts one at risk and what does not.4bae5cf74ec548ac110a9d9a47d3e944_400x400

  • Break the silence surrounding HIV stigma in our community. Talk about your experiences, fears and concerns about getting HIV or transmitting HIV with friends, a counselor, or someone you trust.
  • Learn how to better cope and react when a person tells you he/she has HIV.
  • Take responsibility for the prevention of HIV. The prevention of HIV is a responsibility that all people share – HIV-positive, HIV-negative and HIV status unknown.
  • Challenge attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to HIV stigma. Don’t be a silent witness to it when it happens around you.
  • Avoid using language that overtly stigmatizes others.  Phrases such as “are you clean?” only serve to give the impression that someone HIV positive is some how “dirty”.
  • Treat people with HIV as you would treat anyone else: with respect, empathy, and compassion.
  • Get informed about how to protect yourself from HIV and be confident in that knowledge. We know how to prevent HIV.
  • If you have difficulty playing safe, take charge of your sexual health and get the help you need to ensure you do not get infected with or transmit HIV.

If we all work together as a community, we will be able to erase the stigma that surrounds those living with the virus.  It is through works such as ours here at A Positive Tomorrow that we strive to erase HIV-related stigma from the planet.