Positive since 1989
My name is Larry Frampton, but most people know me as Cowboy Larry. I have been HIV positive for 24 years. I’ve lost two lovers and over 300 friends to AIDS and while it has been devastating to me, it has also empowered me to move forward and fight. When you lose so many people in your life, you make a lot of hospital bed promises to do the best you can to help others living with HIV/AIDS.
I started out helping friends who were dying by doing day-to-day chores and then I did hospice care for many people during their last days on earth. I quickly found my voice and started speaking up for the rights of those of us living with HIV/AIDS. I became involved in planning groups and advocacy organizations on the local, state and national level.
I became a public speaker on HIV/AIDS and started speaking in schools and churches; at conferences and anywhere I could, to educate the public about HIV/AIDS. I have done this for more than 20 years. Over the years I have done countless media interviews to educate and protect the public.
When I was diagnosed in 1989, they way they told you your test results was very cold. They told you that you were going to die and that you needed to get your affairs in order. I set out to change that by becoming a HIV tester and have tried to lead by example. When I give a positive test result, I focus on the individual and his or her needs and do everything I can to help that person navigate the system. I let them get their feelings out so they can move forward. I also always disclose my own status and let them know HIV is not life ending, but it is life changing. I try to give them the tools to face this disease head on.
One thing that has not changed over the years is the fear/stigma of the disease and the isolation that is often felt after diagnosis. I work very hard in Tennessee to change that by being a voice for those who cannot be heard. I still do HIV education and testing every day and serve on many local, state and national committees, boards and organizations to try to do my part in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
What three adjectives best describe you?
Loyal, hard working and honest
What is your greatest achievement?
Being able to educate people and let them know that they have the tools to keep themselves from getting HIV/AIDS
What is your greatest regret?
My biggest regret was when someone I had previously tested often became positive. I felt like I did not do everything I needed to do to educate him to keep him safe.
What keeps you up at night?
As an HIV tester when I find a positive test, I worry about the person to the point I don't sleep. I also worry about stigma and the best ways to tackle it.
If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
Stigma. In the early years of HIV/AIDS those of us living with the virus only had each other and the positive community would stand together to support each other. This does not happen as much now.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Don't worry about the lab numbers. Just focus on getting and being healthy.
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Ryan White. He put a different face on AIDS and made people listen. He was wise beyond his years.
What drives you to do what you do?
The continued rise in the infection rate—especially here in the south. And also all the people I know who died from AIDS.
What is your motto?
To live with HIV/AIDS, you have to be able to laugh at it.
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My AIDS Memorial Quilt block that I made for myself many years ago to be submitted to The Names Project when I die
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
Probably a mama bear that feeds and take care of her young