Taking control of HIV and eradicating stigma
By DARIAN AARON firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandon Kennedy is no accidental HIV/ AIDS activist. That becomes immediately clear within the first five minutes of discussing the topic with the 27-year-old Indianapolis, Indiana native turned Georgia Peach. HIV has been living with Kennedy for five years. You read that right: HIV has been living with him and not the other way around. That’s the attitude and approach Kennedy has taken from the day of his diagnosis and carried throughout his activism in the Atlanta LGBT community and online.
Georgia Voice spoke with the busy Kennedy about his activism, going public with his status, and a life dedicated to activism in between studying for his master’s in social work at California State University and a new internship with STAND, Inc., where he will be responsible for substance abuse and HIV/AIDS counseling and testing.
Georgia Voice: How did you make the decision to go public with your status?
I’ve always been extremely rebellious. I believe in staring adversity in the face and going against social norms. A lot of times it’s expected of people living with HIV to be ashamed and not disclose our status. I told myself that I was going to do the total opposite and show everyone how it could be done.
You strike me as the type of person who is knowledgeable about how HIV is transmitted. Did it come as a shock when you seroconverted?
I became infected while I was in a monogamous relationship. My partner tested positive but my results were still negative at the time.
Yes. I remember an instructor assigning us to write a paper in college about a disease that affected us in one way or another and I wrote about HIV/AIDS. I wasn’t infected at the time but I was affected because it heavily impacted my community. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to reach out to AID Atlanta in March of 2010 to volunteer. I was diagnosed in June 2010 and a few months had gone by and I hadn’t heard back (from AID Atlanta). In August of the same year I got a phone call asking if I was still interested in volunteering. That really resonated with me. Who gets a phone call six months later? I immediately started volunteering and shortly thereafter I
I hate that term so much. Ultimately, I don’t only blame society on a community base level for using that term; I also blame a lot of physicians and clinicians I’ve met personally who also use it. There’s no such thing as “full blown AIDS.” Either one has HIV or AIDS. There’s nothing about it that makes it “full blown.” And if you want to get into the specifics of the biology, we can talk about what that person’s viral load is which can fluctuate up and down, but even then there’s no such thing as “full blown AIDS.”
We’ve come a long way from the days of condom use or abstinence as the only prevention methods for HIV. Where do you stand on PrEP?
I believe all things happen in due time, but it will not happen if there’s no desire. If there is no desire to want to experience what I can only define as liberation, then the person is within him or herself a victim. That person has to want to not stay in the state they’re in. But if an individual doesn’t have the desire to be in a place where they feel liberated in relation to their HIV status and all other socioeconomic factors that surround it, then I really don’t see where the progression can start. The progression starts with the need to want it to happen.
October 16, 2015