If you look at my blog, you will notice that I deleted all of the past articles related to the discrimination that I experienced. I deleted those entries because those experiences are now in the past. Living in the past prevents us from living in the present and looking forward to our future. A manager from a recent job said this to me: "What can you do? You can't do anything". While I have returned to college to better myself and not just prove that person wrong, it still feels really good to know that anyone who says that is not your friend.
I also wanted to share another story about an HIV positive friend of mine who has changed their life for the better through education. To protect their privacy, I have changed their name to Joe. Like me, Joe lives in a very conservative part of Pennsylvania where people tend to judge others based on personal traits rather than situational forces and continue to insist that one can automatically tell who someone is solely on their actions alone. Fortunately, human beings are not so one dimensional because if they were the human race could not survive. Whenever I spoke with my friend Joe, he would often say things like "I can't do that", "I think I am too old", or other statements that indicated he felt they were inferior to others in some way. I think part of this was due to the stigma associated with living with HIV and also because he had not completed high school.
A few months ago, Joe called me and said that he was thinking about going back to school to get his GED. My friend Joe often expressed a desire to do so but fear prevented him from following through. Well, several weeks ago he finally did obtain his GED. My friend Joe exuded confidence and was so proud he accomplished something he initially thought was impossible. Do you know what else my friend Joe did? He contacted Pennsylvania OVR to see if it was possible to obtain funding to return to school. Unfortunately, like me, he experienced discrimination working with Pennsylvania OVR who later denied funding to pay for continuing education despite telling my friend Joe that it would be approved.
Due to the confidence that my friend Joe now had as a result of obtaining his GED, this setback did not stop him. Joe found a way to pay for the continuing education courses on their own without the help of Pennsylvania OVR. My friend Joe is now taking classes and has some great prospects for new employment. Lets face it, living with HIV sucks. Not only does living with the disease take its toll, but we also have to deal with the ignorance and stupidity of others who judge us harshly for standing up for ourselves when facing discrimination or say that a person somehow deserves getting HIV because of something they did.
Education has given me and my friend Joe the power to advocate for ourselves and others, to stand up and be counted, and challenge those who perpetuate HIV stigma out of fear and ignorance. While empowerment and confidence are a good thing, we must also remember to be kind to others, humble, and to never be afraid to ask for help and support each other. If you think that you are in a situation that cannot be changed or that there is no way out...there are still people out their that can help, you just need to ask for it.