POZ Stories : Dennis Vaughn

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January 4, 2013

Dennis Vaughn

Dennis Vaughn
Dennis Vaughn
San Francisco, California
Positive since 2003

I moved to San Francisco from the farm I grew up on because my family—with the exception of my mother—turned their backs on me. I was very sick with HIV and co-infected with Hep C. I was depressed to the point of feeling suicidal.

I chose San Francisco because of the health care and social services I needed. I enrolled in several medical studies and began volunteering for Shanti's L.I.F.E. program. One of the medical studies helped me clear Hep C. My primary care physician got my viral load under control and my CD4 cells increased from 84 to 323.

I met my partner, who is HIV negative, and we were fortunate to be legally married.

Volunteering gave me a sense of purpose and a way of giving back to the community. I made a short film and spoke about HIV/AIDS in Central Illinois where I used to live.

In San Francisco, cuts were being made to HIV/AIDS programs. Shanti's L.I.F.E. program was on the city’s chopping block. I was one of several people asked to speak before the mayor and city supervisors to let them know the impact such cuts would have on the program.

When I was standing at the podium in the chamber of City Hall, I looked over at Scott Weiner, the openly gay city supervisor who now sat in Harvey Milk's chair. I was incredibly moved. It was in that moment I realized I was now an activist and proudly so.

I am a voice for those unable to speak out and speak up. I am not a hero in my eyes, but I have a voice and I use it. Discrimination, fear, and shame no longer rule my life. If my deeds have only helped a single person then it has all been worth it.

What three adjectives best describe you?
Spirited, creative, passionate

What is your greatest achievement?
Speaking before the San Francisco mayor and city supervisors

What is your greatest regret?
Not speaking out sooner and being ashamed for simply being who I am

What keeps you up at night?
Being a burden to my husband and the impact of him being my caregiver

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
Being ashamed

What is the best advice you ever received?
You never know how connections get made and the impact your words have, even with people you are not aware of or have never met

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Mark Illeman FNP, who has been fighting this disease from its onset. I am blessed to have his care.

What drives you to do what you do?
The ability to give for those who cannot for whatever reason

What is your motto?
Get informed, get involved, and get outraged. Speak up and speak out.

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My dog, Buster Bear

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
A dog, so I could get adopted by a gay couple and be pampered as much as we pamper our dog



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