Tak­ing con­trol of HIV and erad­i­cat­ing stigma

GA Voice - - Activist In Action -

By DAR­IAN AARON daaron@the­gavoice.com

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?

Bran­don Kennedy:

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

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