For nearly a year, Jo Ann Santangelo documented the stories of people living in Austin, Texas, in effort to reduce the stigma associated with the virus.
In June of 2008, Chris tested negative for HIV, on July 23, 2008, he tested positive. Chris was 21 years old. He got tested because he wasn’t feeling good several days after having sexual intercourse with a new partner. When he tested positive for HIV Chris told the clinic the name of the person he had sex with, the clinic contacted and tested him for HIV, he tested positive. He didn’t know. Chris has been living with HIV for 4 years.
Dave tested positive for HIV on September 13, 1986. He was an undergraduate at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. Dave got tested after a fellow student he met at a local gay bar showed up at his room and told him he was HIV positive. It was Dave’s first sexual encounter. Dave has been living with HIV for over 25 years.
Phillip had just separated from his wife when she was murdered in their home on January 13, 1988. About a month later he learned he tested positive for HIV. “This was 1988 all I could see was two orphan kids…I realized I could not get sick, I was all the only support they had. So, I said I would make it til they turned 18, and I did and that was a long time ago.” Philip has been living with HIV for 24 years.
Clara tested positive for HIV in 1998. She was told this by her sister, after she woke up from a coma in a nursing home. Clara had been beaten, raped and found naked in a dumpster. The man who raped her was HIV positive. Clara has been living with HIV for 15 years.
Dennis and Lorenzo
Dennis tested positive for HIV in March of 1994. Dennis went to the clinic after he had been suffering with the worst strep throat and mouth ulcers for ten days. They gave him an antibiotic and the strep throat went away, three days later his lymph nodes swelled to golf ball size. When Dennis went back to the clinic, they told him that they had run the HIV test on him (without his knowledge) and he was positive. He had no idea he was going to be finding out the results that day.
Lorenzo tested positive for HIV in November of 2008 when he was 21 years old. Lorenzo had a feeling he was positive and got tested after his then sexual partner told him he had AIDS. After Lorenzo was told by the doctor, he started crying. “I’m not crying because I’m HIV positive … I’m crying because it is the end of what was, I’m crying because I let myself get this way.” Lorenzo has been living with HIV for 4 years and Dennis has been living with HIV for 18 years.
Guy tested positive for HIV in 1986. While living in Denver, CO, he went to the emergency room for shingles. It was during an examination that two suspicious spots were discovered. It was at that time he was tested and diagnosed with HIV. While waiting for his diagnosis, Guy could only think of T.S. Eliot poem, The Hollow Men: “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.” Guy has been living with HIV for 26 years.
Derrick tested positive for HIV in 1987. While working in Oklahoma City, OK, he called his mom as he did everyday during his lunch break, she told him he had mail from the Sylvan Blood Institute, not thinking anything of it, Derrick told her to open it. She read what it said, that he was HIV positive. “She was on one end of the phone and I was the other … I just withdrew and shrunk into this incredibly shrinking person and was holding this big phone, it was too surreal.” Derrick has been HIV positive for 25 years.
Yolanda tested positive for HIV in 2009. She was there for a week and then released to Doug’s House, the first (1988) and still only residential hospice care facility for people living with HIV/AIDS in Central Texas. “It was very emotional, lots of things went through my mind, scary, scary more then anything else, but now I was angry of course, cuz what didn’t happen to me when I was younger, it happened to me when I was in my 40’s, can you imagine, but I learned to live with that and just move on.” Yolanda was in and out of Doug’s House for the next two years. Due to complications from the illness Yolanda passed away on June 26, 2012, she was 52 years old.
Shawn tested positive for HIV on May 16, 1990. He was 19 years old at the time and living in Los Angeles, CA. He had just moved back to Los Angeles from Kansas City, MO after breaking up with his boyfriend. Because he didn’t have anywhere to live, he entered Citrus House, a homeless shelter for LGBT youth. A requirement to live there included getting tested. It was there he learned of his diagnosis. The thought that devastated him the most was knowing “that [he] could take a life with the act of love.” Shawn has been HIV positive for 22 years.
Henry tested positive for HIV in 1997. He found out he was positive after his recovery from surgery took longer than expected. After he was finally released, he had a stroke due to stress related to the recovery and diagnosis. The fear of not being able to walk his daughter down the aisle haunted him. “When I first found out I was positive, I gathered literature to educate myself about the virus and how to maintain my health, I wanted to live a better life and a longer life for my family.” Henry has been HIV positive for 15 years.
Gina tested positive for HIV in 1986. That year she was arrested for prostitution after she took a ride from an under cover cop and he pressured her to perform oral sex on him. While in jail she tested positive for HIV. They told her they weren’t sure and not to worry about it. So, she didn’t until 1991 when she broke out in a rash and was re-tested and diagnosed with AIDS. “When your a transexual you go through so much stuff, so much hate, so much rejection…I was sad, I was, I was like oh girl no time to be sad, you gotta keep a roof over your head.” Gina has been living with AIDS for 21 years.
The HIV test was just becoming available in the spring of 1985, shortly before Gary and his partner, Richard, met and decided to get tested. Gary tested positive for HIV and Richard tested negative, and still tests negative. Richard knew that he loved Gary and the two stayed together despite Gary’s diagnosis. They have been together for 28 years. Gary has been living with HIV for 27 years.
In March of 2010 Richard was feeling sick, and had swollen lymph nodes and was losing weight, after talking with his doctor, he decided to get tested for HIV. He tested positive, he was 28 years old. The doctor’s said he probably had been positive for 4-5 years and didn’t know, because his CDC levels were so low. A month later he ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with AIDS. Richard has been living with HIV for 3 years.
Chris was tested for HIV in 1987 when he was first put into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system. They asked him if he wanted to be tested for HIV and he said yes, because “I was living a risky lifestyle…”. Two weeks later Chris was told by the prison doctor that he had an incurable disease and would die in ten years. That was it, he was shuffled back to his cell with no further information. Chris has been living with HIV for 25 years.