Editor's Note: At the end of 2012 Alex Garner, the founding Editor-at-Large of PositiveFrontiers.com, left this publication to accept a position with the National Minority AIDS Council in Washington, D.C. Recently he took time out his very busy schedule to answer some questions about his history as an advocate for people living with HIV, his time as Editor-at-Large at PositiveFrontiers.com, and his new role at NMAC.
What was your first awareness of HIV? The first time I can remember HIV in relation to me was when I was around 13 years old and I watched the movie, “As Is” on Showtime. It’s about a gay man who gets AIDS and I immediately identified with that even though I didn’t call myself gay but I knew I liked boys. In the film they find a KS lesion on a character’s back. After the movie was over the first thing I did was go into the bathroom to check my back for a lesion. I knew they were like me and that HIV was something that happened to people like me.
When did you learn you were living with HIV? I learned I was HIV-positive in Jan of 1996. I was a queer youth activist, doing prevention work, I had just got out of school and thought I had my entire life ahead of me and then HIV happened.
What was it like to test HIV-positive in the mid 90’s? Traumatic. It’s still traumatic, I am sure but it different ways. Back then it was still about death and AIDS. I had the unique experience of seroconverting right before the epidemic changed so I was able to see it from both perspectives.
How did your friends and family react? My best friend had seroconverted the year before so he was a great support. Family had a very difficult time with it, as you can imagine. My father was still struggling with me being gay and the HIV only compounded all that or maybe confirmed his worst thoughts. The community responded with judgment and castigation. The standard accusation of, “How could you be so stupid, reckless, irresponsible, etc, etc”
How has the epidemic changed since then? Profoundly. The world of AIDS, as we knew it, is over, and the crisis is over. Now it’s a world of HIV and the issues of race, class, homophobia and other social issues are much more pronounced. It’s also a world in which positive gay men can collectively reclaim their lives, culture, and sexuality.
Read the rest of the interview at PositiveFrontiers.com