What I Wish I Knew About the Community I’d Have After My HIV Diagnosis

When Humberto Orozco learned his HIV status, he didn’t know where or to whom to turn. He’d soon learn of the survivors and advocates who were there to help him.

Humberto Orozco stands next to words that say HIV/AIDS What I Wish I Knew

Photo Courtesy of Humberto Orozco

When I was 19 years old, I was devastated and shocked when a routine visit to a sexual health clinic took a turn for the worst. On that gloomy day in April, I received a life-changing diagnosis, and it altered my path in a way I would have never imagined. 

When I learned my HIV status, I felt like I was on a remote island all by myself. I did not know where or to whom to turn. Little did I know that this HIV diagnosis would open the doors to a community I am now invested in and embraced by. 

As I approach almost 15 years since that life-altering day, I reflect on what I wish my 19-year-old self would have known on that day.  

I had no idea there was an entire community of HIV and AIDS long-term survivors, HIV advocates, and everyday people living and thriving with HIV. In fact, I could not fathom that people like me—Latino, gay, and living with HIV—existed in my adopted hometown of Gainesville, Georgia, when I was first diagnosed. That is precisely why I felt so alienated at the time.  

Little by little, however, I started meeting people living with HIV thanks to social workers and mental health professionals, which made me realize that I was not alone. The unconditional love that I received at social gatherings with people like me—combined with a warm embrace by members of a support group for people living with HIV—is what helped me start accepting my new self and embark on my advocacy journey.

Words cannot describe the importance that peer support played in my self-embracement. Coping with a life-changing diagnosis was made easier because I could lean on people who provided unconditional kindness. That is why I continue to advocate for accessible mental health services for people like me. 

Over time, I have learned that I am surrounded by people who want to see me thrive, and this certainly pushed me to share my status publicly. I have met inspirational HIV advocates along the way. The courage to live their lives openly while carrying out meaningful personal missions, such as destigmatizing HIV and AIDS, rubbed off on me. As a result, I decided to share my status on World AIDS Day 2021, and I haven’t looked back.

I have also found inspiration in my involvement with organizations empowering people living with HIV, such as Jerusalem House and The SERO Project. I have expanded my network of people living and thriving with HIV exponentially, and I could not be more grateful for the community that I have gained as a result of my diagnosis.  

If someone would have told me that I would be named a POZ 100 honoree—a group of Latino advocates, either HIV positive or negative, who are making a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS—in 2022, almost 15 years after being diagnosed with HIV, I would not have believed them.

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