Chattanooga, Tennessee

Positive since 1984

I was told I had been exposed to HIV on June 12, 1984. In those days, we did not have negative or positive in our vocabulary.

When I walked into a room to get the results of my blood study, there were about 25 professional people standing before my eyes. I turned to the nurse who escorted me in and said, “I guess I have ‘it,’ otherwise they wouldn’t be here.”

A doctor told me that I needed to get my affairs in order. He thought I had six to eight months left to live.

I walked across the University of South Florida campus and dropped out of graduate school. I drove across the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg and quit my job. I cashed in my 401(k) and my CDs and redeemed my insurance policy. I was ready to die.

After eight months, the money was gone, my prospects were zilch and I was still alive.I found a great therapist who helped me get my head in order. I found my passion, my calling, teaching.I was a high school history and English teacher. My wanderlust enabled me to travel the world, teaching as well as learning.

Since 2010, I have been on disability. Physically, I can’t work 8- to 10-hour days anymore.

I have discovered that activism and advocacy are also my calling. I do what I can to help the voiceless.

People living with HIV are just like anyone else. We cry, eat, laugh, sleep and love. We need the energy of others. Part of my mission is to help modernize the HIV-specific laws in Tennessee and to spread the beautiful news of U=U [Undetectable Equals Untransmittable].


What three adjectives best describe you?

Loyal, caring, serious.

What is your greatest achievement?

Holding my granddaughter in my arms. (She is the granddaughter of my late partner.)

What is your greatest regret?

That I haven’t traveled to China.

What keeps you up at night?

Money worries.

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


What is the best advice you ever received?

Live in the moment.

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

Larry Frampton of Nashville.

What drives you to do what you do?

The passion and fire in my belly to rid the world of stigma.

What is your motto?

As Elaine Stritch sang in Follies, “I’m Still Here.”

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


If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?

A dog because they give unconditional love.

Editor’s Note: Mark Grantham was on the 2015 POZ 100 and the 2016 POZ 100.