OUTspoken: HIV Positive Rights

One Philly man tells his story about being gay and discriminated against for his HIV status

Howard Nields is a familiar face in the Gayborhood where he works and performs on the nightlife scene. As part of the “I’m From Driftwood” campaign that collects stories from LGBT people around the globe, Nields shared his own experiences being an HIV-positive man in Philadelphia in 2011:

I guess I must first preface this tale with a revelation. I am a gay man living with HIV. I have been this way since October 23, 2007. I don’t blame anyone but myself for my “situation.” I mean, let’s be realistic, it takes two to tango. I wasn’t raped or drugged or whatever. I willingly engaged in stupid, risky, unprotected sex and now I must deal with the penultimate consequence.

I was told something the other day that was rather hurtful – and I suppose untrue – yet there are many times when I wonder if that is so. A stranger, upon learning of my “condition,” felt it his duty to tell me that I had a lot of balls to think that I should ever have sex again, that apparently I had given up my right for human affection, human contact and sexual gratification the day I failed the most important test of my life. Who was I to try to have sex and infect others?

Now, of course, the initial knee-jerk response is that this guy was obviously an ignorant, uncaring moron and that I should pay him no mind. But, sadly, he is not the first – and I am sure he will not be the last – to tell me such a thing.

I don’t look for pity or even empathy for who I am. Like I said, I made my bed and in it I must lay. But at a time when the country is at a crossroads in determining just how “equal” we as gay men are, can we really expect them to understand if we as a sub-culture can’t even find respect and compassion amongst ourselves? I mean, it’s not like I don’t tell guys my status; I don’t try to hide it or deny it. Yet over half the time – upon revealing it – you get the look, the look that makes you feel like a modern-day leper.

I made a mistake, albeit a rather stupid and severe mistake, but who among us hasn’t? Do I suddenly become less of a person because of this? Do I no longer have the right to the same happiness as any other man?

Now I know these stories aren’t supposed to be tirades or rants or whatever about social injustice, but I think sometimes we, as gay men, need to just take a step back. We want to be treated as equally as our heterosexual counterparts, yet we are always quick to discriminate against other gays who are “less than ourselves.” When does it become right for the “victim” to become the “victimizer?”

Never. It never does.

We are all human and deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. Just try to remember that the next time you complain about how you are treated by another. Think about what it would feel like if the shoe was on the other foot. Would you degrade someone just to make yourself feel safer, all because of your own fears and misunderstandings?

G Philly encourages others to share their personal stories with us. Have a story to share? Please e-mail nmcdonald@phillymag.com to be featured in the next OUTspoken.