Living in Chicago exposes people to the reality of inner-city life. For LeSherri James, that reality included contracting the HIV virus. James is an activist who keeps it real when talking about her infection and what it is like being a young Black woman with the disease in Chicago.
Where are you from?
How long have you been an HIV activist? What spurred your activism?
I have been an activist for 16 years. I got into activism because I am HIV-positive and am now 34.
How did you become infected?
I was in college [at] TSU. There was a program that if you got tested you could get [out] of classes for the day and you would receive an A in that class for the week. So I got tested and I found out I had HIV. At the time I was cheating on my boyfriend with another guy.
What was your reaction to being a young Black woman with HIV then and now?
My reaction was to first get high and drunk for about a week. I had to process it and it took about a year later for me to come to grips with the diagnosis. My reaction now is it that the disease is a silent killer. As I said, I’m from Chicago and most women do not speak about being HIV positive.
Do you think young Black people today appreciate the risk of HIV?
No, young Blacks do not appreciate the risk. This is because people are still contracting the disease.
What role does sexual identity play in HIV infection today in your experience?
Truthfully, for those 23 and under it’s a risk-taking behavior. They really don’t care, they want to have fun, party and have sex. This goes for MSM, women, straight guys or transgender people. You can tell them 200 times about the risk and they still take the chances. They just don’t look at it as something they can catch.
What role do Truvada and PrEP play in the Black community in Chicago? Are people using it as a pass to have casual sex?
Yes, I believe that people are using the drug in that way. In Chicago, since PrEP came out there were people still getting syphilis and gonorrhea so that means they were having unprotected sex.
What would you like to say in closing?
People need to make a choice when it comes to sex. Men think with their penis and women think with their hearts. So for those five minutes or more, they need to think about waking up with HIV.