By: Félix López
A young gay man from University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez opened up about his unique life. Luis (As he asked to be called to protect his privacy) is full of goals like getting his first internship in the United States and graduating, feels has a meaningful life ahead. He seems like your typical UPRM student, but Luis is also HIV positive.
During all his life he has considered himself as a very happy and healthy person, who enjoys nature and his big-eyed dog. Luis said the only thing he wished was different is that his parents accepted his homosexuality instead of sending him to a psychologist and never speaking of it again when he was younger.
His official transcripts of high school are in his apartment in a little brown box, and they showed he is a straight-A student. He is also very interested in human rights, especially gay rights. Generally Luis admitted living a fairly easy life until this year.
“A couple months ago I got sick for a whole week and the doctors couldn’t tell what I had, so they kept doing blood tests including one for STDs ” he said. “When the result came HIV positive, my relationships, my mind and my life changed completely.”
Many people struggle to “come out of the closet” to their families and friends, he had to come out after his parents received the news of their son, what they protect the most, was HIV positive. “I can’t deny that during the acceptation process, my perception was very negative, not only because I was HIV positive but also because I was gay,” he said.
“My parents suffered a lot, we all had to go through a mourning and acceptance process which is very difficult,” he said. “But now my relationship with my parents is better, they love me, they worry for me, and they accept me as a HIV positive son, sadly it was not always the case.”
Luis explained how he told his parents he was gay before high school, but they didn’t accept it. “They just thought I was confused and some teenagers experience it when growing up,” he said. “My parents were homophobic people.”
Luis felt the lack of acceptance from his parent, failed heterosexual relationship and loneliness during his first semester at UPRM contributed to his brief sexual encounters.
For the American Psychological Association, discrimination and homophobia could be considered as causes of getting infected with HIV. Dr. Perry N. Halkitis explains that “experiences with oppression and homophobia, which tend to pervade family, school and community settings, are especially relevant for gay and bisexual young men, who are in the process of establishing their personal identities.”
“Unlike other marginalized groups (e.g., immigrants) who grow up with people like themselves and who receive the support of their families, gay and bisexual youth frequently have more complicated and often abusive family dynamics,” he added.
Luis thinks being open with his family about being gay could have prevented high-risk behavior, which led him to getting infected. “If I could only go back in time, and educate myself on the matter I would but I can’t. So what’s left for me is to speak up, and help prevent more cases like mine,” he said. “But now is not my time to do it, so you better write about me anonymously,” he added laughing.
A research that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted back in 2011 showed that “the group the population of men who have sex with men (MSM) has continued to be the only risk category for which new infections are rising.” In fact, according to CDC, gay, bisexual, and other MSM acquire HIV at rates 44 times greater than other men and 40 times greater than women.
Before being diagnosed Luis admitted being prejudiced against HIV positive people. “ I didn’t say anything negative against them, but it was easy to justify why they were HIV positive,” he said. “Being HIV positive doesn’t change who I am, it only means you need to be more careful with your health, and appreciate my boyfriend and life more, now I see that.”
He was already in a relationship when he learned he was HIV positive. “I can say it was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had,” he said referring to when he told his boyfriend. “To my surprise he has been very supportive, we were worried he was HIV positive too, but he isn’t thanks God, I feel extremely grateful for having such a wonderful person by my side,” he added.
His boyfriend didn’t say much during the brief time he accompanied Luis. They both could be seen very loving and caring with each other. “ I love him no matter what, being HIV positive is not a death sentence,” he said. “Luis has one daily pill which is working great, his virus load has reduced a lot by now, he even gained weight,” he added while they both laughed.
Luis’ boyfriend also believes that they can do great things out of this situation. Both agreed it is important to help stop something like getting a Sexual Transmitted Disease, which they think is one of the easiest things to prevent, yet can cause so much harm.
Luis profoundly admires Pedro Julio Serrano, which is a gay activist in Puerto Rico and also is HIV positive. “Many people could say a lot of bad things about him, but people like me see strength in him,” he said.
Pedro Julio opened up to newspaper Primera Hora about how he got infected in 2012 saying: “I got it (HIV) in my first sexual relationship, why do I make this public? Because I want my story to be worth it,” he said. “Only one time without protection is enough to get infected, you have to always use protection and test periodically.”
Luis talked very confidently and he clearly wasn’t ashamed of his condition. “I’m still learning how to live as a HIV positive young man everyday,” he said. “Of course I regret what I did to get infected. But what’s the point to focus on the negative? I know this experience will help me save many lives in the future, at least I tell this myself everyday, that I’m going to help people. After all we could be dying but if we can save others before we are dead, then our death was worth it.”