I tested positive for HIV in 1987.
It was a scary time. I was working in Los Angeles, and no one knew much about HIV. Rumors, assumptions and fear often overrode common sense and compassion.
Trying to find out facts about my personal condition was difficult enough. Going to work fearing what others might think – even worrying if I could be fired because of my status – only layered on the stress. Honestly, there was nowhere to turn for confidential assistance at work back then.
I can only image how many women and men could have benefited from a workplace HIV/AIDS program like the one we have at Levi Strauss & Co. It provides a confidential route to obtain information and educate ourselves.
Today I feel strongly that all employees – especially our young professionals in the retail environment, regardless of their HIV status – be informed, stay informed, spread empathy, encourage people to get tested, and stay healthy and stop the spread of HIV. For me, the first step at work involves working together to create a place that supports HIV knowledge and dispels HIV assumptions and misconceptions.
We have a new generation of young people at work. And, we need to talk about HIV. I chose to discuss my HIV status and my story with my employees and colleagues, so I can encourage my team to learn more, and realize that HIV/AIDS is not over…yet. But, we can end it. And we all have a role to play.
We may be reluctant as a society to discuss HIV, but if we know the facts we can make smart, personal decisions…and slow and stop the spread of HIV.
On this World AIDS Day, my hope for my staff and fellow employees – for everyone, in fact – is to never go through the experience of being informed that you are HIV-positive. Educate yourselves and know the facts, and support your friends and colleagues.
Get tested. If you are HIV positive know everything you can to take care of yourself and stay healthy. I have for 24 years and plan on many, many more!