February 26, 2009
A Diva's Disclosure
by Kellee Terrell
On the February 23 episode of Logo’s new series RuPaul’s Drag Race—a reality competition show to find the best drag queen in the country—fans were hit with a shocker. (No, one of the contestants isn’t really a woman, pretending to be man who dresses up as woman.) Contestants were asked to create a commercial for M•A•C Viva Glam, a lipstick and lipglass line whose proceeds go to HIV/AIDS awareness. After hearing that he won the challenge, Ongina (Ryan) broke down in tears and announced to the world that he was HIV positive.
| Ongina from RuPaul’s Drag Race
The sobbing 27-year-old told the judges, “I’ve always wanted to say, but I have been so afraid to say it: I have been living with HIV for the past two years of my life and this means so much to me.” He added, “I didn’t want to say it on national television because my parents didn’t know…but you have to celebrate life, you have to keep going.” This admission moved many to tears, and RuPaul applauded him, saying, “Ongina, you are an inspiration.”
On February 25, Ongina came to the Big Apple to be the M·A·C Viva Glam spokesperson for the day. His duties included holding a press junket at the M·A·C Flatiron Store and talking to students from The Harvey Milk High School about stigma and shame surrounding HIV/AIDS. He also presented them a grant for $25,000 from the M•A•C AIDS Fund.
We caught up with Ongina to get the scoop:
POZ: Was disclosing on the show a spur of the moment decision?
Ongina: Yes, I decided to disclose right there on stage when I started to break down and cry when they announced I was the winner. I was completely in awe that I [was going to] represent M·A·C AIDS Fund and Viva Glam—they are so amazing. I also wanted to be an example for others—I have HIV but can still celebrate life just as glamorously.
How did your family react?
Amazingly well. I told them three weeks ago when I went home, because it would be bad if they found out from the show. Originally, I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want them to worry about me. Plus, I was really scared. I am Filipino, born and raised, and I was really scared that it was going to be bad. But my mother is the most amazing person—she hugged me and kissed me on the forehead. She said, “I love you, and you should know that if anyone is going to support you, it’s going to be me.”
How do you feel now that you have come out?
Really good! I’m not hiding anything, and I feel free. The weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Did you ever think that you were at risk for contracting HIV?
Yes, of course. You walk around in life thinking that you are at risk for anything. I trusted somebody I didn’t really know when they said they were negative when in fact they were really positive. So prevention is key, and unprotected sex should never be an option. I made a mistake by making it an option.
But I don’t have any regrets. Everything happens for a reason, and I plan to educate others and raise awareness. I want to follow the steps of RuPaul and all the other Viva Glam spokespersons. If I can touch just one person’s heart and give them hope, I think I am on the right path.
What’s the biggest challenge that you have faced since being diagnosed?
Depression. I was depressed for like six months; I didn’t go out or communicate with anyone. Then one day, I told myself, “There is no reason to be depressed.” So I switched, and I was like, “I am going to celebrate life.”
Prevention, like you said, is key, but the reality is that people are going to test positive every day. What are your words of wisdom for those living with HIV?
You must move forward and keep going. So, stay happy and healthy—and keep thinking positively. Life will be just dandy!
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs 10 P.M. ET each Monday on Logo.
Watch Ongina’s winning PSA.
Search: RuPaul, Ongina, drag queen, Logo, MAC
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