A personal perspective
Executive Director, Haven Youth Center
My name is William Brawner. I am 30 years old, and my entire life has been tailored around my diagnosis: I have been HIV positive for 27 years. At 18 months of age I was severely burned and required a blood transfusion, which is when I contracted the virus. Since I’ve been positive for over 2 decades, I have endured the harsh side effects of many medications, including dangerously high fevers, night sweats and stomachaches. Unfortunately, medication side effects are not the worst aspect of living an HIV-positive life.
As a result of the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV, my immediate family and I agreed that I would not disclose my HIV status. This entailed keeping it a secret from relatives, friends and girlfriends. When I turned 18 and wanted to become sexually active, not disclosing started to become an issue. It was difficult not having any support other than family and doctors, and I had no idea how to go about telling anyone that I was HIV positive. Finally, after becoming increasingly sexually active and conflicted about not disclosing my status, I felt compelled to leap out on faith. My high school sweetheart was my first girlfriend to ever know that I was positive, and this ended as a disaster when she sent an e-mail to my university’s assistant vice president stating that I was infecting everyone in the school. My heart hit the floor and I vowed never to tell another soul.
After this, I developed what is commonly known as the “superman syndrome” — I felt invincible. My counts were good, I was young and good looking, and women loved me. In my mind, the virus was no longer a part of my life because I believed I had beaten HIV, and with this belief, my behavior became reckless. Despite knowing my status, I was very promiscuous, and even though most of the time I was extremely careful, sometimes after a few drinks and marijuana I lost my negotiation skills and fell to sexual pressures. After a period of time, I was able to notify people that they needed to be tested, and to my knowledge I never infected anyone; however, not everyone is as fortunate.
Understand that not everyone is comfortable with themselves and their HIV status. Many HIV-positive people may engage in risky sexual activity for a number of reasons including denial, a desire to be accepted, or because they don’t even know their status. We are all responsible for own health and safety. If you have sex before marriage be sure to always use a condom, and know that it is okay to question your partner about his or her status. However, be mindful that people may not always be honest. Take control of your own destiny by getting tested, and encourage the people you know to do the same. As the new face of HIV/AIDS, my goal is to provide others with the knowledge and skills necessary to stop AIDS!
And I’m just getting started. I am the executive director of Haven Youth Center, a nonprofit organization that I started in Philadelphia to provide educational, social, and recreational services to youth living with HIV to support healthy, age-appropriate development and transition into adulthood. My own struggles as a youth with HIV inform the work that I wish to do at Haven. To learn how you can support me in the struggle, check us out the Haven Youth Center website.