What Christie’s Place Means To Me

Today I write this with a heavy heart.

When I was diagnosed HIV Positive in March of 2013 I very quickly learned how little services there are available to HIV Positive women.  The nice woman at Planned Parenthood had very little information for me but she did hand me a short list of organizations in San Diego that provide services to HIV Positive people. There was only one place on that list that catered to women, that place was Christie’s Place. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. It was a Saturday and unfortunately all of the organizations were closed for the weekend. I called every phone number on that list and I left a message on every voicemail praying for a call back. I was so very, very scared. You see, I had made the terrible mistake of googling HIV and the first thing that popped up was a photo of David Kirby. He was lying in a hospital bed, his body nothing but a skeleton. He was taking his last breaths. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I just knew I was going to die. It was the longest most horrible weekend of my entire life.

First thing Monday morning the calls came pouring in. The organizations were finally returning my calls. One after another they told me that they only cater to the LGBT community and that there was nothing they could do for me. I think the third call that came in was from Christie’s Place. It was the sweet voice of a woman named Jay telling me that she would help me. She would help me figure it all out and everything was going to be just fine. She explained to me that she was a Peer Navigator and although at the time I had no idea what that title meant I very quickly made an appointment to meet with her, I had so many questions. That same day I went to meet with Jay. I was an emotional wreck. I remember pulling up to the address she had given me and thinking that it looked like a house. That was oddly comforting, I guess I expected a building or someplace much more clinical looking. Anyways, I went inside and told the lady at the front desk I was there to meet with Jay and then I took a seat in the lobby. Actually, it was more like a living room, complete with couches and carpet and there were even pictures of people with their families on the wall. Jay walked around the corner and introduced herself then she asked if she could give me a hug. I’m not typically the hug a stranger type of person but it was the best hug I had ever had in my life. I remember thinking this woman knows I have HIV and she still wants to hug me? I needed that hug more than I have ever needed a hug. I think in some ways that hug may have saved my life.

That day I met with Jay and Heather (both Peer Navigators) and together they explained to me what having HIV meant and that I was going to live! I wasn’t going to die after all! They both told me that they too were HIV Positive and they were doing just fine. They explained to me that I would just need to take medication and I too could live a healthy, fulfilling life. I remember looking at them and thinking they both looked so “normal” nothing at all like the man in the photograph. Jay went on to help me figure out the healthcare part of things. She even helped me find a doctor, schedule my first appointment and went to my first doctor’s appointment with me! From that moment on they were both, just, always there for me. Anytime I had a question or needed a hug I could call Jay or Heather and they would just… be there. That is when I finally figured out what a Peer Navigator truly was and how amazing and instrumental they are to a person newly diagnosed HIV Positive.

I grew very familiar with Christie’s Place. I went there to get help with my health insurance and ADAP enrollment. For a while I went there for therapy and when I was ready I started attending the Tuesday night support group. I was so scared and nervous to go to that support group alone I asked Jay to come with me and she did! She sat right next to me and I felt so relieved and thankful to have her there. I still go to the Tuesday night support group, every Tuesday actually. Christie’s Place became my second family. It was a place that I felt safe and I felt like I belonged there. When you are newly diagnosed it is very hard to feel like you belong somewhere, it is also very important to feel like you belong somewhere.

It wasn’t long after my diagnosis that I knew I wanted to do something to help people with HIV. I developed a passion in my soul to help people. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew that I was going to do something, anything I could to help. I started my website, wearehiv.org and that fulfilled some of my desire. I even helped a few people get into care and helped others to find places that provide HIV testing. I remember the first time I helped a woman all the way across the country get linked to an organization much like Christie’s Place. When that woman emailed me to let me know that she had been to the doctor and got her meds I felt a feeling I didn’t even know I could feel. Knowing that YOU helped someone save their life is monumental. Still I wanted to do more…

Four months ago Heather sent me an email and told me there was a Peer Navigator position available at Christie’s Place. I knew at that very moment I wanted that job and I would do any and everything in my power to get it! Working for a nonprofit organization does not pay much monetarily but it is so very rewarding! I often say helping people is better than any paycheck you could ever receive. After a lengthy interview process I got the job! I was over the moon with excitement. I would finally get to comfort other people at quite possibly the worst time of their lives and I couldn’t have been happier. Plus, I would get to give out hugs to people that really needed hugs, and to me that was amazing! I’ve been here at Christie’s Place for three months now and I have loved every second of it. I have met amazing, inspiring women that I now could not imagine my life without. I have learned so much about HIV and the people living with HIV. I have been deeply touched in a way that I had never expected. The passion in my soul had finally been met. Until, today…

Today, I and another Peer Navigator were informed that a large chunk of the funding for Christie’s Place was lost and we will have to go part-time starting March 15th  and very possibly lose our positions altogether because they can no longer afford to pay us. That is why I am writing this today. Christie’s Place is an amazing resource for women living with HIV. If they do not have the funds needed for the work they do then ultimately it will be the women that need the resources Christie’s Place provides the most, that will lose out.  So I am asking for your help. If you can help please do so! Being a woman living with HIV is hard and without all of the services Christie’s Place offers it will be so much harder. I honestly cannot imagine where I would be today without Christie’s Place and Jay’s amazing hugs!

Click Here To Help Christie’s Place

 

Dear Rachel

WeAreHiv.Org:

My beautiful, amazing, loving, extremely talented friend wrote this letter to me today and I wanted to share it with all of you. I am so very lucky to have such amazingly supportive people in my life! I absolutely love her and her little family with my whole heart! Thank you Annie and Mike for always being there for me. I truly could not imagine my life without you guys!

Originally posted on Just Me! (and Him) (and Them):

“I went to the doctor to refill my birth control and…” We were in San Diego visiting family and of course you, our dear friend. I didn’t know what to think when you said you needed to talk to us privately, but I was pretty sure that you were going to tell us you were pregnant. Mike and I exchanged a glance and I knew he was thinking the same thing. I let out a mental sigh. This was not a great situation for you to be in. Sure, you could raise a baby on your own, but it would be so hard! You have no family in San Diego… Before my mind wandered too far, I noticed your eyes. That look in your eyes. Regardless of your situation, a baby wouldn’t make you look like this. Such nervousness. Sadness. A little fear? What could possibly be this hard to tell us? I tuned back in…

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Ten Sexiest Straight Men Living With HIV In 2014

bbowers_014_300_dpi1. Bob Bowers aka One Tough Pirate (San Francisco, CA)

Bowers outreach educates, raises awareness, fights stigma, and perhaps most importantly, invokes compassion, hope, and affirmative change on our planet.

Infected in 1983 from a one-time decision to share a needle, Bob is one of the first 14,000 Americans infected with HIV. He has lived throughout the whole history of the AIDS pandemic, experienced many ups and downs in his health, and lost so many friends you wonder how his heart can bear it.

He is a powerful and motivating public speaker that reaches out to a large array of diverse audiences. He is a tireless and passionate advocate helping to shape HIV/AIDS policy. He is also active in fund-raising events, camps for youth affected or infected by HIV, guest-speaking engagements, and youth prevention education in schools, colleges, jails and community organizations. He has been interviewed and featured through Film, Television, Radio, Magazine and Newspapers. The feature length AIDS documentary, “The Fire Within”, follows his life during 1999 and is a moving story of courage, passion for life and the healing use of choice.

He is far from the ‘stereotypical’ image of a person with AIDS, thus having a profound and lasting impact on his audiences. He is generously outspoken about his life struggles and personal choices prior to the time of his infection. Through his public speaking, he shares how HIV disease has helped him to make better choices and to appreciate the very simple beauty of day-to-day life.

To broaden his message of survival, youth prevention through education, hope and compassion, he founded HIVictorious, Inc. ® in 2005. In 2014, Bob’s outreach and message continues under, One Tough Pirate Productions, Inc., based in San Francisco, California. As an HIV positive speaker, Bob knows first-hand the importance of putting a face to the disease in hopes of reducing AIDS stigma and more.

In 2012, Bob had the honor of being a POZ Army General (POZ Magazine) in the fight to cure HIV. Throughout these many years, his voice, passion, and commitment continues! You can view One Tough Pirate on the May 2006 cover of POZ Magazine He was also featured on the cover of Positively Aware.

He feels his greatest accomplishment is survival in general. “I’m out there way beyond my time,” he says. And it is with the fiercely honest grit of his courageous heart and soul that Bob pierces through the slightest bit of complacency or prejudice any of his audience members may hold. “Compassion is our cure,” he commands. And with this pirate at the helm, you believe it.

For more on Bob please visit him at: www.onetoughpirate.com  

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2. Eric Parker (Carlsbad, CA)

Eric Parker started a non profit called Surfing4theCure. His passion in life is surfing and sharing it with others. He is working on himself to become a better person and really is a beautiful spirit! :)

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3. John Schatz (Reno, NV)

In 2003 I was in a rehab center in Reno when I was offered ten dollars in Burger King money to take an HIV test so about a week later I was called in for results …POZ I was thus began my new life. I became a CHOW Community Health Outreach Worker and testing others for HIV and Hep C also operating a needle exchange program NEP we got over 600,000 needles off the street in 2007 and 08. You ask how I got HIV?  It’s simple I didn’t protect myself … so my message is to you protect yourself because the face of HIV no longer looks like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia..no sunken cheeks and skin and bones and purple sores making it obvious who has HIV ..so wear a condom please!

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4. Larry Bryant Jr. (Brooklyn, NY)

Mr. Bryant is a force to be reckoned with! He is currently the Volunteer Program Manager at Housing Works Inc. www.housingworks.org he is a member of the United States People Living With HIV and Global Network of People Living with HIV – North America, he is also the steering committee member of the Campaign To End AIDS. When he is not working he is also a photographer.

“I would like to see more men – straight men, in particular – standing up to be more visible, vocal, and involved with rebuilding and repairing our role in addressing the HIV epidemic among women and girls.”- Larry Bryant Jr.

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5. Derek Canas aka DJ D-Rek (Brunswick, GA)

Emulator DJ and VoLT member of One.org, Derek contracted HIV from a blood transfusion as a baby. He wakes up everyday with a positive attitude and is striving to educate others about HIV and has started his own campaign “End The Stigma” associated with the disease. He speaks to colleges and anybody who will listen. To know him is to love him!

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6. John Strangis (Hemet, CA)

I tested positive in 2011 after learning that my fiancee Jessica was HIV+. Although she did not disclose to me her status, I never held it against her because I care deeply for her. Shortly after testing I discovered the dissident movement and became a strong voice for them because I honestly believed that what they spoke of was genuine. After watching my partner falling ill twice to PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia) and accepting a treatment to avoid mother to child transmission of HIV when she became pregnant with our son Dominic (who was born negative), I cannot deny that there is something making people ill and the drugs do work to save people’s lives. I now advocate for the people who are suffering because of HIV/AIDS in the hope that I may make a difference. While I was misguided in the beginning, I believe I can turn my negative experience into a positive one which possibly may help others from making the same mistakes my partner and I made.

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7. Shawn Decker (Charlottesville, VA)

Not only is he quite sexy outside, he is sexy on the inside as well. He has used his own story of being diagnosed with HIV as a child and living with it for the majority of his life to educate others and bring as much awareness as possible for the last 18 years. He has spoken to tens of thousands of young adults about what it is like to live with HIV and how they can make healthy choices in their own lives to not have to live with it. He has also been a contributing writer for POZ magazine for the past 17 years.

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8. Dick Donato aka EvelDick (Orlando, FL)

Dick Donato is best known for winning “Big Brother 8″ back in 2007. Diagnosed with HIV in 2011, Eveldick now uses his platform and voice to educate others about HIV. Dick has put himself and his status out there for the world to see!

“Look, I’m an open, straightforward, everything-on-the-table kind of guy. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to go public. HIV is a…disease….” Dick presses on, firmly. “This is not a gay disease; it’s not a straight disease; it’s just a fucking disease!”–Read more from Dick’s interview with A&U Magazine HERE

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9. Joshua PozitiveHope Middleton (Murrieta, CA)

I was diagnosed HIV positive on June 5, 2012 and have been living life to the fullest ever since. I am a survivor, not a victim, and have been through a lot for my young age. I survived near death from necrotizing fasciitis, septic shock that sent my blood pressure to dangerously low levels, two years of monthly hospital stays, and a five year drug addiction to crystal meth through my teen years. I am one of the sexiest men living with HIV because despite my condition I continue to be an honest, loyal, good looking, comical guy that I always have been. I keep an optimistic attitude at all times and a smile on my face because despite my condition and experiences, nothing is going to hold me down. Sexiness can be defined in so many different ways but for me someone who is sexy is confident with themselves in every aspect. This is the kind of guy that I am, confident in everything that I put my mind to. If I want something I go for it, if I am interested in someone I give it my all, and when life gives me lemons I make lemonade. I am an HIV activist, a son, a brother, a hard working man and a man who knows what he wants in life. I’m not afraid to share my story or face stigma because honestly I could care less what others might say that contribute nothing to my life. I have found that internal happiness within myself and when you find it, nothing can take that away. What some might view as barriers, I look at as challenges, and I love a good challenge. I am in no rush to find love, I am not going to settle because of a condition, its just a matter of time before I find a princess that I fall in love with and spend the rest of my life with. I am studying to be a pilot at the moment and looking to take other passions in my life to a whole new level. HIV is simply a part of who I am but its not all of what makes Josh Middleton. It has been a game changer for sure in the sense that its made me grow in ways I never thought I would. I am a much more mature and educated man because of this condition, it is what it is. Life throws punches at times but it’s how one moves forward that matters. I am an HIV activist because despite what I have been through, I want others to prevent themselves from going through the emotional roller coaster I have. I want to be a part of the change and not simply watch it happen. I am living proof that one can live with HIV and still be sexy, but at the same time it’s not anything one should have to go through to initiate a change from within. I take one pill a day, that keeps my HIV at bay. Life is so beautiful and I am glad to be a part of it. The sun shines a little brighter, nature seems that much more beautiful, and with or without HIV I will continue to press on and live life to the fullest every day of my life. If that makes me sexy I say hell yea, I may be positive but I still look and feel good inside and out!

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10. Jeff Hammond (Carrizozo, NM)

Jeff was diagnosed HIV+ June 10, 1984 and diagnosed with AIDS March 16, 1998. He is VERY open about his status.

Jeff has inspired other bikers to join his and Bob Bowers motorcycle tour: Ribbon Warrior MC Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Oregon Tour, from New Mexico to Oregon to speak at schools and to involve other benevolent bikers. He is a very sweet and devoted man who has given a great deal of love and support to others living with HIV and cancer. He has always paid it forward and never gives up! He has a huge heart and always pays it forward with what little he has.

I am EXTREMELY open about my HIV. I was talking to a waitress friend in the cafe one day and some asshole from two tables away popped off with “what are you talking about, HIV is a gay disease. That’s what i keep hearing on TV.” I lost it. Here is this kid, 26 years old telling me that because I have HIV I have to be gay because he heard it on the tv… By the time I got finished being loud and telling everyone in the cafe i was HIV+ and NOT GAY and for those that stuck around I did an impromptu HIV 101 prevention education. I was thanked by an old couple for speaking up and “thank you for putting that young man in place because his comments were disrespectful to you. My niece has HIV and she isn’t gay.” Made me feel good…– Jeff Hammond


 

I just wanted to give a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this article possible! With special thanks to Marissa Smith, Jessica Baoman, Bob Bowers, Jody Eddy & Derek Canas! Without your unwavering support I would have never finished this article! I also want to give a huge virtual hug to all of the Brave Men on this list who allowed me to share their stories and faces with the world. The stigma is real and we all know the only way to fight it is to come out and show ourselves. Finding ten heterosexual men living with HIV who are willing to come forward to the world is like finding a needle in a haystack; no easy task. HIV is not a gay disease. HIV is an everyone disease. #WeAreHIV #ShareYourStory #EndTheStigma