A Black man.
A Black gay man.
A Black gay man living with HIV.
I am all of those and greater than the sum of the parts. My intersecting identities. The things that make me who I am and who I want to be. The identities that have shaped my life’s experience, sharpened my vision, and amplified my voice. And dear God, I’m still here.
To be completely honest, I’m astonished that I am here. Because it wasn’t that long ago that I was afraid to look forward in my life. Living my life stuck in neutral. Running away from my own shadow in a dead sprint. Content with hiding my dreams and aspirations from myself and from the light of day. Allowing past traumas, hurt, and failures to uproot any new possibilities before they were planted. But dear God, I’m still here. Comfortable in my own skin and living my truth. Guarding my peace while putting one foot in front of the other.
To be completely transparent, I wasn’t supposed to make it through birth, yet I’m still here. I’ve previously tried to end my own life, yet I’m still here. I’m still here 12 years after being given an AIDS diagnosis and six months to live. Dear God, I’m still here.
There are moments when being a Black gay man living with HIV is an untenable situation—shouldering the weight of expectations of my communities and to be honest, myself. There are days when the micro aggressions, racism, homophobia, and stigma are all encompassing, suffocating me of my hopes, my humanity, the what ifs, and the ‘what can be.’ There are days when I want to retreat from the world, it’s misery, and malcontents. But dear God, I’m still here. And retreating is not an option.
Retreating is not an option when my communities are often disrespected, disinvested, and disregarded. Retreating is not an option when there are young people battling with suicidal ideation due to their sexual orientations or gender identities. Retreating is not an option when the syndemics of HIV, COVID-19, and systemic racism are impacting people who look, live, and love like me. And retreating isn’t an option because I made a promise to my aunt dying from AIDS-related complications in 2006 that I would spend the rest of my life advocating on behalf of people living with HIV. And dear God, that’s why I’m still here.
Back in August, I celebrated my 40th birthday and found myself in deep introspection of my life. Forty years of fear and failures. Forty years of new beginnings. Four decades of memories—some good, some bad, and yes, some ugly. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Because those ups, downs, and roads less traveled by have molded me into the man I am today. They have made all the difference. And that’s why dear God, I’m still here.
This opinion was written by Timothy S. Jackson (he/him/his). A native of Jackson, Mississippi, by way of Huntsville, Alabama, Timothy works as the director of government relations for AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC). His work at AFC includes developing and managing the organization’s government relations activities specializing in HIV-related state legislative matters regarding appropriations, health care reform, HIV decriminalization, harm reduction, LGBTQ+ issues, housing, and addressing racial health disparities.
As a Black gay man living with HIV for 12 years, Timothy’s career is centered on advocating on behalf of people living with HIV, amplifying the voices of those most impacted and addressing the effect HIV has on the communities where his identities intersect. Timothy is a lobbyist, a policy wonk, a foodie, a creative, a man of faith, but most of all, a fierce advocate.