POZ Stories : Sean Stephens

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May 2, 2014

Sean Stephens

Sean Stephens
Sean Stephens
Tallahasse, Florida
Positive since 2003

My "story" may be a little different, but it was the first true example of my personal openness and honesty about my status.

I have been living with HIV for nearly ten years. But I only recently realized my own voice can and should be powerful. My best friend has been outspoken on the issue of stigma in particular, and the persistent, negative remarks he has encountered finally upset me to the point that I felt compelled to speak up on my own. The following is what I posted on Facebook on August 29, 2013:

Tonight leaves me in distress. I have grappled with something for about a decade that I hint at but do not address directly. When it first happened, I had an opportunity to speak on a national level as an educator and advocate—but unfortunately I pulled back and missed that opportunity. I discuss this issue tonight because I saw—once again—an example of inhumane and ignorant behavior that hurts good people. What sickens me about myself in this situation is that I have always promoted speaking out in a free and democratic society, yet I have not.

People very close to me have asked why I am not open about this issue. Well, I guess even I, a principled a-hole at times, gets scared and concerned about perceptions too. But I can't do that anymore I can’t watch those for whom I care about take so much unwarranted heat and hate while I sit in security of shadows. I have never used a firearm, know nothing of hand-to-hand combat and cannot imagine wielding a sword. But I have something as much—if not more potent—I have my pen, paper and words!

I am HIV positive. I have kept quiet about my chronic condition for many reasons—mostly due to shame and peer pressure. However, as someone so outspoken, I will not let others fight the stigma alone that I too have the burden to defend. There is much about many people and things that none of us fully comprehend. But that is no excuse to degrade and judge your fellow man or women because you don’t know any better. As much as my words can sting, so can yours—and beyond that, you prove that you don’t value human dignity and life.

We all have fears—some warranted—others not. Yet, with those fears we have a responsibility to speak appropriately on what we know. What really pushes my buttons is a minority group of homosexual men who cast degrading, hurtful and downright ignorant and inhumane comments to its own. This is a complete disgust and a barrier to human rights and respect. We all have a duty not just to ourselves but also to our brethren and our posterity. Do not ask for respect and understanding for yourself if you will not provide the same to others. The Constitution of the United States of America (the greatest social contract to date), begins “We the people…” not “you the individual.”

I realize that I may be burning bridges and perhaps losing opportunities in the near future by expressing my honesty and walking out of the shadows—but I recognize my own duties to myself, to my community and to those I love. Advancing knowledge and human kindness is something greater than me and thus deserves my own potential sacrifice.

Judge not lest ye be judged—the stone you throw may be the stone that kills you...

What three adjectives best describe you?
Intelligent, introverted and intuitive

What is your greatest achievement?
Overcoming suicide on multiple occasions for multiple reasons (not due to HIV alone)

What is your greatest regret?
Not speaking at a national conference upon my initial diagnosis

What keeps you up at night?
Fear of not realizing my true identity and potential in life

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
The negative perceptions that still permeate society

What is the best advice you ever received?
Speak your mind and do not fear what people may think.

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
My best friend

What drives you to do what you do?
I have an insatiable passion for humanity and utopian ideals.

What is your motto?
"We the people..."

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My best friend, who is also my roommate

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
I'd be a chameleon. Like chameleons, my colors and appearance can change to protect me in my environment. However, only my outward appearance changes, my core being does not.

Search: Sean Stephens, Tallahasse, Florida

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