All Grown Up With HIV
by Cristina González
Lafayette Sanders, 24, West Philadelphia,
Having found power in disclosure and self-advocacy, musician Lafayette has found a new life. Now that he has broken down his own stereotypes about HIV, Lafayette is trying to help other people do the same.
I was in the doctor’s office. I was 13; it was a few months after my mother passed away. My grandmother took me for a checkup, and I was then told about me being HIV positive. My grandmother knew what I didn’t: My mom died of HIV, HIV that she passed along to me. They told me, and I took the meds but didn’t learn anything about HIV. At that age, I had no idea about the stigma or life spans. Having to take medications was like taking vitamins: You don’t know what it’s for, you just do it ’cause it’s good for you.
And then high school hit. I started to hang around kids my age, and everybody was talking about sex, and HIV came up in the picture. I wanted to tell them I was positive, but I didn’t know that much about it to tell and to be able to defend myself. I didn’t want to be looked at as different. So I didn’t disclose. There were so many feelings, and I was so angry for so long. It took me a long time to get over the anger at my mom—that she didn’t tell me herself, when we were so close and shared everything, and then to find out this big thing and to deal with it on my own. I was angry at her, God, myself, everybody. And then there was my grandmother. My grandmother was the primary guardian to my sister and me after my mother passed. My sister, who is not HIV positive, was too young to remember my mother’s death. My grandmother, who is a sweet and caring woman but also very traditional, put me in a box of fear. She made me believe that disclosing my status would change how people treated me, how they looked at me. It wasn’t true, to me—I knew someday people would understand and accept me for me.
When I was maybe 17 or 18, I woke up every day thinking about HIV and [I wanted to make it go away, to pretend it wasn’t there] so I stopped taking medication. I would hide it, pretend. I was young and irresponsible. And I was having sex.
The turning point came with my last two girlfriends. I disclosed to [the first one] right off the bat. Still we were reckless and irresponsible, and she got pregnant. She had a miscarriage, and to this day she’s negative. Second relationship, almost the same thing. She had an abortion. I was sitting in an abortion clinic, and I thought, “How the hell did I end up here? I’m reckless, and the people I’m with are reckless.” That was my wake-up call, the moment of “You have to get your shit together.”
I hooked up with iChoose2live [a youth organization designed to encourage self-esteem and awareness about HIV and other issues]. I thank God for everyone He has placed in and out of my life. He uses who He chooses when He chooses. If it weren’t for me meeting [hip-hop artist] Lee Mekhai at a show in Philly, I wouldn’t have found out about iChoose2live and the founder Shenille Melton. That opened a lot of doors for me as far as reaching the youth.
Since I had already taken a course for certification in HIV Peer Education through Philadelphia FIGHT’s program, Project TEACH, I thought about disclosing my status. For 10 years, my grandmother was the voice discouraging me from disclosing. I was secluded. She drilled into me that disclosing was not safe, that “the neighbors are gonna look at you this way, no one is gonna look at you the same way or accept you.” But as I began to educate myself about the virus, how it works and what it does, I began to lose the fear of disclosing. Then after I linked up with iChoose2live, I came out in a big way through interviews and the work [I did with that group].
My grandmother kicked me out when I told her I would be doing an open interview about me being positive with The Philadelphia Inquirer, which [was published] on September 13, 2010. [At that time,] I had no job, no money, I was struggling. But a lot of positive things came from my disclosure. People emailed me to thank me for being honest about my HIV status. I was intrigued and blessed that my story could help others. I started speaking to groups at the children’s hospital. Kids looked up to me.
I’ve learned that kids in public schools aren’t being taught what they really need to know. HIV is that disease that’s swept under the rug; no one talks about it. And youth are spreading [the virus] because they’re uneducated, misinformed and not being reached out to enough. I honestly think there should be mandatory classes in all middle schools through college for educating about HIV/AIDS [and other sexually transmitted infections].
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. It’s a great feeling to be able to do that. And that’s just me! One person. Imagine if everyone was doing it, if everyone got together. We may not be able to stop this pandemic, but we can inform, educate and empower, and we can slow down the rates of HIV transmission.
I would like to write a book about my life living with HIV and just my life in general. I know my story and experiences within these past 24 years can help educate, empower and change other people’s lives—people of all ages. My story will heal lives all over and most importantly let everyone know the power of God. He’s the only reason why I’m still alive and healthy.
I’m looking forward to the future, staying healthy and changing people’s lives.
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Search: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, New York, Indianapolis, National Survey of Family Growth, abstinence, sex education, Perinatally Infected, iChoose2live, LGBT, Red Cross
Scroll down to comment on this story.
comments 1 - 11 (of 11 total)
AquaScriptLess, Michigan, 2012-03-06 21:16:17
What an eye-opener that other people have the same story as me. I relate more with the 1st story. I also grew up HIV and just like his grandmother, my dad was overprotective, sheltered and taught me disclosing was bad. Here I am today 26 yrs old and still I'm insecure, scared, closed off and scared to step out of my shell. It's a 50/50 chance that a kid will grow up OK with traditional parents. There should also be education 2 parents as well, it needs 2 start there before kids can get educated.
barb, seattle, 2011-11-08 12:20:15
poz 33 years in january. as my daughter did for 20 years..EAT LIFE! I'm Inspired and thanks for coming out and taking up the banner. God Bless Ya, Barb
Carrie, south bend, IN, 2011-10-02 23:47:54
I LOVE THIS STORY! the whole first part of him growing up sounds JUST like me. i was also born with hiv. i have been living with it for 23 years now. i also did not know i had hiv as a child. and when i found out i wasnt actually "told" i heard a doctor say it and i looked at my mom and said what???? and she looked at me with such fear. and i was NEVER talked about it ever.i was horrible as a teen.me at 23 im still not okay with my status but im trying to become at peace everyday.
want2changetheworld, Cleveland, 2011-09-26 10:23:45
I love the articles. Its exactly what we need in order to prevent and spread the word not the disease. I was recently diagnosed and I'm proud to say it has not turned my heart cold or made me bitter. I don't want to hurt anyone else I want to protect and by me seeing a lot of bad people who have become bitter and passing the disease around I truley thank God that that is not me. I would love to be apart of POZ magazine. Maybe even POZ TV
Anusha Alikhan, , 2011-09-12 12:33:28
I recently blogged about this article on Conversations for a Better world, a youth community for raising global issues and finding solutions, sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund-
We would love to have more young people join and share their opinions towards building a better world together.
Bautlwatsi Gaeelwe, Gaborone, 2011-09-09 04:04:07
A lot has changed in my life recently,tesed HIV positive in January this year and from there onwards been living positively.now looking lovely than before even though im not on any medication.
Robert T. Jenkins, South Suburban Chicago, 2011-08-19 19:01:36
So much has gone on in the past 10 years. That is how long I have been HIV positive. Right now, I am a 40-year-old Black, gay, male living in one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the U.S. So much of the ignorance that was a big part of life during my teenage years is still a part of life today. I am very glad to read this article and see that there are young people attempting to pull us out of the dark ages of ignorance--I commend the writer and those written about.
lukubaga.denis, kampala, 2011-08-19 13:24:50
wawu its a very good support to those with HIV POSITIVE we thank you Rena for that ,but the advise i have is to leave health and positive leaving,I love. you all of you
justin ligreci, NYC, 2011-08-18 10:00:48
KUDOS to the young men and women snapshot-ted in this story. And also to Cristina González, for writing the piece.
Young, positive people have such extraordinary challenges to overcome it's a testament to how far we've come and how much further we still have to go.
Gary K., Brooklyn, 2011-08-18 08:56:08
David your courage and perseverance will pay off. You are a remarkable young man and am proud to have you in my (LGBT)chosen family. You have brought joy and intellectual conversation to us all.
Frederick Wright, southern California, 2011-08-16 14:51:46
comments 1 - 11 (of 11 total)
Yes, thank God, what a strong and courage young man and very handsome too. I am always so thankful to God when I hear a story of a such power in a person life to over come the trama of our sociaity in his truthful expereinces for truth I believe always overcomes the haters. Stay strong Layfette, be joyful, live, love and yes.. have some great sex too... for a Cure is on it's way and my GOD make it so.