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I Am The First

This College Kid is Using His HIV Status to Shape a Better World


The first in his family to come out LGBTQ, Ariel Sabillon is turning his pain into purpose by helping to eradicate HIV stigma at a local level. 

Ariel Sabillon knows his history, and he’s using it to ensure a better future for those living with HIV. A queer-identified son of Honduran immigrants, Sabillon continues to organize staunch efforts for immigration reform and to eradicate HIV stigma.

Last year, the Florida native helped to stall House Bill 9, an anti-immigrant law that banned “sanctuary cities.” Now, he’s part of the Florida HIV Justice Coalition to modernize HIV crime laws — all while he’s working to complete his undergrad degree.

“I am the first openly queer person in my family,” he tells Plus. “It means a lot to me because it’s paving the way for a more inclusive history, regardless of where we find ourselves in the world. It’s important to me because it’s a break away from traditional gender roles that have confined us. It paves the way towards a hard and laborious process of decolonization. And that’s very important to me.”

The 22-year-old student is part of a new generation of people living with HIV, one that will never know a world before antiretrovirals and U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable), a global consensus that proclaims when a person is living with HIV and is undetectable, it is impossible to transmit the virus.

Of course, being the first person in his family to come out LGBTQ was quickly eclipsed when he came out HIV-positive. After getting diagnosed the summer before his senior year of high school, Sabillon chose not to see it as a scarlet letter, but rather an opportunity to grow, learn, and help others. These days, he’s continuing the trajectory.

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Courtesy Instagram / Ariel Sabillon

“HIV is a dear friend. I carry it with me,” he says. “But it goes much deeper than that. For me, to advocate for something I have to truly live it, and that’s the journey I’m on right now.”

In the last year, Sabillon’s activism has transformed. He’s through with “trying to change” other people’s opinions, and instead he’s choosing to work and transform himself.

“I’m looking forward to a more simple, abundant, and aligned life,” he says now, looking ahead to graduation and what life will bring. “I’m looking forward to being a land steward, like my grandparents — may they rest In peace — have called on me to do. I look forward to spending time with my family and friends bonding over our connection to the land, over our shared love, and a commitment to transform the systems that we were dealt with. I’m looking forward to envisioning a better, a new, future for us. Paradoxically, this means looking to the past and how my ancestors have lived before ‘modern’ society.”

The politically attentive Sabillon, who became a naturalized citizen just before Trump went into office, is never going to stop speaking truth to power. His advice for a younger HIV generation is simple: “Trust your intuition.”

“HIV is different for everyone,” he says. “Sometimes life gives you blessings in the form of pain, and it is your task to transform those pains into blessings. That’s what HIV has been for me.”

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