When I moved to Chicago a little over two years ago, I chose to disclose my HIV status on a need to know basis. For the first year here, only the director and assistant director of my graduate program and the principal of the school where I'm employed were made aware of my status. I was very intentional in my decision not to disclose. Embarking upon a new opportunity, in a new city, surrounded by new faces, I wanted to be known by the merit of my scholarship, integrity and character. Relocating provided me with an opportunity to define myself by my talents, strengths and abilities alone rather than by the virus flowing through my veins.
As I navigated through my graduate program, I gradually shared my status during conversations with my colleagues, turned friends, on an individual basis. For many of my new friends, I was their first personal encounter with HIV/AIDS, which created teachable moments that I felt responsible to seize. Being that first personal experience someone has of a person living with HIV/AIDS is a great responsibility and is incredibly risky. Ignorance and negative stigma around HIV/AIDS continue to be issues within the global society, criminal justice systems and intimate relationships.
In my experience, the choice to disclose involves a tangled internal conversation that haggles over the pros and cons of disclosure. The fear of potential rejection and isolation always lurks in the back of my mind when I decide how, when and to whom to disclose. This time is no different. For days I have been going around and around with my thoughts about disclosing to a special group of girls. I've come to the conclusion that although my fear is valid, my purpose is greater. And my silence serves no one, not even me. For this reason I will be commemorating National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2014 sharing knowledge and taking action with the staff and students of the all-girls school where I am employed, and a group of teens and tweens who attend the church I'm seriously considering joining. Openly disclosing my status to both of these groups of young women could potentially be disastrous for me, greatly affecting my comfort level at my job and my desired place of worship. But, if at least one of those young ladies think twice her sexual health because of something I say then it will be worth disturbing my peace.