Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Coming Out Story: I Am HIV Positive

I recently interviewed with Olivia Ford for Poz Magazine about HIV and #BlackLivesMatter and here is a snippet of the interview entitled Finding common cause fighting violence and HIV:

Click here to read a digital edition of this article.

“It was just too much at one time,” Ashton P. Woods remembers.

Woods was already an activist. In the late 1990s, at age 15, he started one of the first Gay-Straight Alliances in his home city of New Orleans. He volunteered and interned with progressive political candidates, advocated for women’s and LGBT rights, and advanced get-out-the-vote efforts in Houston, Texas, where he now lives.

Then Trayvon Martin was murdered, and Michael Brown. Their killers went free. Videos of black people being abused or slain by police began to surface, again and again: Eric Garner. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland.

“It’s different when you know something is happening, to then have there be visual proof,” muses Woods. “It infuriates, and it makes you want justice—what people have been telling you is imaginary and untrue has now been proven to be true.”

Woods marks the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, as the event that connected him to the movement now known as Black Lives Matter.

The phrase dates back to 2013, following George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the slaying of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old. Alicia Garza, one of the three black women who founded #BlackLivesMatter, ended an impassioned love letter to the black community on Facebook with the phrase. Her good friend Patrisse Cullors reposted the message, adding the hashtag. Both seasoned community organizers, the two put their heads together, along with a third friend and sister activist, the digitally savvy Opal Tometi, to create online platforms under that banner.

“Being part of Black Lives Matter fell in my lap, and I felt right at home,” says Woods, who organizes with Black Lives Matter Houston. Woods does not bring HIV into the center of his activism, though he is openly living with the virus. The main goal of his activism is to ensure that people in his community, particularly black LGBT people, are actively engaged in politics and are viewing that work intersectionally.

“One reason I started doing Black Lives Matter work in the context that I do it was that I kept seeing this focus on the bodies of black men,” Woods says. “What about the bodies of black women? Of black trans women? Of black gay folks?”

Black Lives Matter has been called the new civil rights movement. It is unapologetically affirming of queer and trans experiences; two of the network’s three co-founders, Garza and Cullors, identify as queer... CONTINUE READING


Six months ago I went public about my HIV status for various reasons much bigger than myself. We have reached a point in history where it is time for those of us who are HIV positive to step up and fight HIV criminalization, stigma and take our lives into our own hands. Let me take a step back and start from the beginning, as you know, I came out at age 15 and my knowledge of HIV was intermediate at best. At least I was smart enough to know that HIV and AIDS are two separate things, smart enough to have my first HIV and STD tests at 16 years old.

I will never forget the day when I took my first test, I had just left the now closed Gay & Lesbian Community center and wandered to the NO AIDS Task Force. It was at the Task Force that I took an OraQuick mouth swab (keep in mind that this was fairly new technology at the time) and it was my first time being nervous for 20 minutes. After this initial test, I would continue with a routine of testing every 3 or 6 months depending on how sexually active I was. Over 8 years of testing, then in April of 2008 I took a test at a drop in center in the Montrose area of Houston. Something felt different this time because the results took longer than normal to come back via the person who conducted my test. He came and he looked petrified, maybe because we knew each other, it was probably the hardest thing he had to do that day.

It took him about 3 minutes to even say what he needed to say to me, and when he finally revealed my results to me, it was like a horrible dream. The odd thing about the situation is that I was eerily calm and I usually like that in crisis mode. I flashed back to the fall of 2007 and early 2008 when I suddenly remembered the dry heaving coughs and the recurring flu like symptoms. This happened as I went through how I could have contracted it, and we talked about the fact that he needed to do a blood draw for a confirmatory test. By this point, Everything that I had learned about  HIV over the years came flooding back to me and as I broke out in hives I asked myself, "What you gone do bitch?" For context, the question meant that I could not sulk because it was always a risk that I was taking when I had unprotected sex and that I could handle it. A little while later, my blood test also came back confirmatory positive, I was set up with a care provider who would walk me through labs and how to maintain my health. One thing about Being HIV positive is that if you don't have the right people providing services to you, it could spell disaster and for the most part I was lucky (hindsight statement).

As far as coming out about my status to the world, I was pretty fearless given some of the things that I have been through. I will leave you with the post that made it known to the world:

"There are many closets to come out of and I have come out of the closet at the age of fifteen and identified as Gay/SGL and I have always known who I was attracted to from an early age. I came out of the closet as an Atheist  and I am UNAPOLOGETIC ABOUT WHO I AM. I respect and accept all of my intersections that make me Ashton P. Woods. I generally do not disclose my HIV status unless I know that I will be sexually active and have always felt that it was no one's business.

I am not coming out of this closet just for me, I am coming out of this closet for everyone who has be ostracized and made to feel nasty. Those of us who have HIV are healthier than most out in the general population, yet we Black gay men die at a higher rate from HIV than those who are in the group where HIV infection is actually the highest. I live UNAPOLOGETIC ABOUT WHO I AM, I accept me for who I am. It is time that you accept you for who you are! We are not nasty people, we are not contagious, we are doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers! I am HIV positive and I live a healthy life, I am a person , a whole person and I exist.

I think, as someone who lives with this every day of my life that we need HIV education that is all encompassing and inclusive of all communities. I am HIV positive and I am more than just that, I have stood when no one else would stand. Stand with me for my humanity, stand with me to break stigmas and help to educate our brothers and sisters about truths and break the myths.

My name is Ashton P. Woods and I am HIV positive."