Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness is a devastating event in any person’s life. When it comes to an HIV diagnosis, the event becomes even more agonizing. The pending prospect of a wasting illness and death hangs like an ever-present sword waiting to drop on the afflicted. For some, it can lead to a downward spiral of depression and death. For others, it becomes a fight for life and purpose. On Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, the advocacy group SisterLove gathered women who have survived with an HIV diagnosis for 20 years or more. These women are not just victims of HIV, they are activists and educators against the disease as well as motivators.
Rolling out spoke with 10 of these women at the event. Here is the story of Syndi Gonzales-Negron.
Where are you from?
Why did you become an HIV activist?
There is a lot of miseducation and lack of understanding about the disease. Even now, there is a stigma associated with HIV that keeps people hidden. Because of this, HIV is spreading in Puerto Rico.
For many, not having the money to pay for HIV drugs is a crisis. Is there an issue with getting the needed drugs and treatment in Puerto Rico?
Thankfully, because of Social Security and public health clinics, this is not as bad as it could be. We are fortunate to have access to treatment if it is sought by a person.
At one time being diagnosed with HIV was a death sentence for a person. This has changed for many. How do you feel about your diagnosis?
I was born HIV positive and I am 24 years old now. Yes, it is true that for many an HIV diagnosis meant death but this has now changed. However, for many who are undiagnosed and living with HIV, there is still an issue. Things have changed but there is still a lack of education in the community. This lack of education is critical. As a young Latino woman, I want to be one of the faces in the HIV community; I don’t want to hide. I want to be a leader to make others aware and to educate the community about HIV.