This post is based on an in-person interview conducted with Joe in the Office of HIV Planning at the end of November 2012.
Tell us about yourself. My name is Joseph. I've been involved with the Office of HIV Planning through the Positive Committee for several years. I enjoy it very much - it's always a learning experience and I enjoy the group that comes with it. I like that [Positive Committee meetings] are a planned activity on a set date, and there are good guests and information.
What made you get involved in the HIV/AIDS community? It had everything to do with friends of mine who were losing their lives to the virus. I started out helping them by going to doctors' appointments [with them] and being with them. The most dire cases me me realize [HIV] would be around for a while. I made a commitment to be in the game. I understood that people from all walks of life were being affected, and it was always about trying to beat this. I've seen a lot of stories from people who live with it successfully. I'm proud that the status issue is irrelevant to me, that I can see beyond it and it does not have to come up in conversation. Status means nothing. I've found friends that have successfully managed their lives and moved on, and it's really about overcoming.
If you could change one HIV policy or implement a new policy, what would it be? Believe it or not, what I would clearly like to see is the notion of HIV and stigma be totally disjointed so people understand that HIV is just a virus, and there should not be a window looking into how it was contracted. I wish I could see HIV policy like [that of'] most diseases, where no one questions how you go it. Can you legislate that? Probably not - it's all about education. People just don't know. I would love to see mandated K - 12 HIV education. [HIV is] manageable. I don't want anyone to get it, but support services are there for you so you don't have to feel any shame, or feel that you're not a complete person. A lot of people have actually become more aware of their health and the health care system. We all need education about HIV, because you don't really know about [these issues] until you're confronted with them.
Who do you look up to or admire? I'm a news junkie, and I'm a talk show fan. I like it when things are presented as conversations. I really like this person, and I know she comes with other points of view, but it would be Kathie Lee Gifford. She's fun and upbeat. She's done things in the past, but she has a relatability factor. I just understand where she is at in this point in her life.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing people living with HIV/AIDS? I think the biggest challenge is acceptance. The other big challenge is that you will be committed to medicine for a very long time, and you have to understand that it will make changes to your body. But with a window of living that is so long, people can age with HIV. At some point, you'll be taking a pill for something anyway. It's all about accepting it, and understanding that you'll be committed to doctors' appointments and some dos and don'ts for the rest of your life. It's a struggle for some. I've known some people that went on [drug] holidays early on, and it would show. They would feel different, and fall into patterns that weren't good for them. You have to accept it, and have the courage to say, "This is what I'm going to be doing." There are so many interventions to let you know you're doing things for the right reasons.
If you found out your friend was recently diagnosed with HIV, what would you tell him/her? I am so prepared to answer that, thanks to the Office of HIV Planning and the conversations we've had. If someone said, "Joe, I'm HIV-positive," my next words would be, "Get into treatment." That's where it all starts. There are doctors in their neighborhood. We are extremely fortunate to have this network. It's so essential. A lot of people don't know it's out there, so I try to speak up. A lot of services are absolutely free, which is the tipping point for getting people into care. Once you get into these systems, you start looking at other points of your health.
What do you think? Would your answers be different? Take the interview yourself online, and we'll post your responses here.