Love is the probably the best treatment to heal the stigma and pain of living with HIV. We've talked to some amazing people from around the country who offer their takes on being in love while living with HIV, (and without HIV), and what it means to them on Valentine's Day.
Dena and Daniel Hughes
For HIV-positive heterosexuals, dating can be a challenge.
In 2012, Daniel and Dena Hughes were seeking companionship through HIV Dating Online, an online website specifically for individuals living with HIV. What happened next was like a fairy tale.
"It was two days before Valentine’s Day. I received a notification about a man who had just come online and was only 13 miles from me. Since my diagnosis, dating was not necessarily difficult, but it was challenging to have to include the intricacies of HIV in the relationship," says Dena Hughes.
"I went to the site because the biggest challenge in communicating with a potential partner was already taken care of. I didn’t have to worry about telling someone else that I was HIV positive," responds Daniel. The two spoke briefly and made plans to meet. They have been inseparable ever since. Six months after meeting one another, they were married in their home with family and friends in support. Today, Daniel is the owner and operator of Hughes Property Services, a resident and commercial renovation and building company. Dena owns Concept 2 Resource, a consulting firm.
Both are active in the HIV community in Houston, Texas. Dena has spent her personal and professional career working and advocating for people living with HIV and HIV prevention. Daniel is certified as a Community Health Worker and promotes HIV education among men, with a special interest in individuals returning from incarceration. Together, Daniel and Dena have created a very large blended family with 10 kids that rotate through their home and three grandchildren.
Their oldest daughter, Danne currently works as an HIV and teen pregnancy prevention health worker. "Every day, we are grateful that we had the opportunity to connect with one another. We found what we were looking for and at the same time received so much more, a family, a loving community," said Dena Hughes.
Bruce Richman and Carrie Foote
"This is an exciting time to be living and loving with HIV," says Bruce Richman. "We now know that if you have HIV and an undetectable viral load, you can't transmit HIV to your sexual partners. And if you have HIV and aren’t undetectable, then PrEP for your partner and/or condoms are also highly effective options. More and more people with HIV and their partners are getting access to options that take control of their social and sexual health while keeping stigma and fear of HIV out of their bedrooms."
Bruce Richman is the founding Executive Director of Prevention Access Campaign and "Undetectable = Untransmittable" (U=U).
U=U is a community of over 200 AIDS organizations, researchers, and advocates from 15 countries who are dismantling HIV stigma by forever changing the way organizations and people think and communicate about people with HIV and HIV transmission risk. U=U is an unprecedented opportunity to improve the lives of people with HIV and end the dual epidemics of HIV and HIV-related stigma. Carrie Foote is the chair of HIV Modernization Movement, Indiana.
Heidi [last name withheld by request] flanked by her son and her boyfriend: "60 years of POSITIVE LIVING ready to take on any mountain! Blessed!"
Hy Abady and David Pearson
"Valentine’s Day… For David and I, my husband, Valentine’s Day comes six days earlier. We met on February 8, 1987, that’s right, 30 years ago, our Day of Romance a bit earlier. I tend to be early overall. Years fly by, AIDS rages on, many people die. And, in 1994, late in the year, David is diagnosed with HIV. As a nurse at the time, he gave himself a flu shot and, days later, a tough case of shingles appeared. It was Thanksgiving. David, in extreme pain, still cooks a dinner for a few close friends at home in Manhattan. The miracle, and I think about this every night before bed, is that right around that time, the mid-90s, HIV became manageable and life, for the two of us, goes gloriously and even healthily on. 30 years. Sometimes David (we got married just about t a year ago) says we are more like bad roommates. But I know he doesn’t mean that. What we do, on Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year, is take care of each other. What’s your definition of love?" Hy Abady
Abady spent 44 years as an advertising writer/creative director. He also writes an occasional column in the East Hampton Star, compilations of which are in two books: Back In The Star Again and Back In The Star Again, Again. His blog The Hy Life is available at hyabady.com.
Jacob and Tabitha
"Home from work today, relaxing and chilling this evening. Jacob has been HIV-positive 20 years, and still living strong; Tabitha has been HIV-positive four and a half years. We love life and we live for one another.” Jacob [last name withheld by request].
James and his husband
James [last name withheld by request], on the right: "The day I no longer feared being HIV-positive was the day I met my husband and learned what is was to be loved for just being me, with no fear."
Jeffrey and Jason
"It’s crazy to think that HIV has been my cupid for Valentine’s Day in the 21st Century. But my journey loving a partner with HIV all began on the eve of V-Day 2001, when I checked my then boyfriend into the ER, not knowing he was sero-converting. I remember holding him so tight, and pulling him as close to me as possible, wanting to protect him, and to keep him safe. I discovered that true love was far more powerful than any virus. HIV only made me love him more. And after my own diagnosis, and eventually meeting Jayson, my partner of 12 ½ years, I refused to allow HIV to define, or taint, love. I embraced it. In a way, I flipped the script and found a way to make HIV sexy in me and my partner, just as I do his beautiful brown eyes or his intoxicating smile, or the way he makes me laugh-smile when he walks in the room. Yes, for 16 years, HIV has been my cupid. It’s made me love in ways I never thought possible." Jeffrey Newman
"I thought for a long time looking for love and being HIV positive would be impossible. However, we all carry a struggle and something to overcome; Something that we bring with us into a relationship. The same way we deal with those things is the same way we should deal with HIV and our partners, honesty. Just be honest and confident in yourself that the right person will come along who can see you are more than what you carry. If you're lucky, they'll even help carry it along with you. I am very lucky that I've found that for myself, it was definitely worth the wait." Joseph Kibler
Joseph Kibler is a 27 year old Actor/Writer/Producer who was born HIV positive and disabled. Joseph has produced a feature documentary Walk On, which educates on HIV and follows his journey having gone from a wheelchair to cane, training to walk 6.2 miles in the LA AIDS Walk. He has also appeared on network TV, including an upcoming Guest Star on Chicago Med. Joseph continues to advocate for those who are HIV positive and also the disability community.
Maria Mejia and Li Laing
“I am a social media activist who has been HIV-positive for 23 years. I’m also an Hispanic lesbian from Colombia living in Miami. I am pictured with my partner/husband of five years, Li Laing. He is my rock and number one supporter, and is HIV-negative. He gives me the love and support that I think is so important for people with HIV. He's spending today in court getting his name changed.” Maria Mejia
Mark and Bryce
"Finding love with HIV can be or has been a difficult thing for some. Years ago for me it was serendipitous. Today, not so much. Soon after my diagnosis in the mid 90’s, I had gone out to a local bar in Los Angeles to wallow in pity (as a lot of us did during that era) being lonely, dealing with the facts on being told eventually one would succumb to this disease. While sitting in a corner by myself, I had noticed this guy I thought was attractive. He was by himself as well in another area of the bar. I couldn’t take my eyes off him but had to every time he’d look in my direction as not to be noticed as ‘staring’. After several ‘almost getting caught’ moments, I realized he was doing exactly the same thing. Could it be? Hmmm. I changed tactics. I started to watch him in the mirror on a wall of the bar. That way, I wasn’t caught ‘staring at him’. 30 minutes of this and I discovered he was doing the same thing. I could not stand it any further and decided that I had to either personally engage him, or let it go without ever meeting him and calling it par for the course. I got up, walked over and introduced myself. I told him I was aware of the ‘stare down’ game we had been playing and couldn’t take it anymore. I asked him if I could buy him a beer, to which he accepted. Bryce was his name, a Navy veteran, and careerist with a large grocery chain in Southern California. We sat down, chatted for a bit. He presented himself as what I thought. A very sweet guy. But before we got too deep into chat, he stopped the conversation with an announcement. “I just need to tell you that I have AIDS” was his statement. I knew exactly what he was doing. My immediate reply was 'so what? Who cares?'
"That reply stunned him as he shared that every time he had seen someone he was attracted to, when that subject was broached, they went to the restroom and never came back, stated they were no longer interested or coiled with horror and got up. He had been rejected so many times it was his ‘first line’ of defense, to throw himself on his sword. He was wearing a long sleeved shirt in summer in interior Los Angeles County. Unheard of because of the heat, He wore it to hide the lesions. My reaction was so stunning to him, that he asked if I was interested in leaving and going to a nearby coffee shop and talking. To which I agreed. That conversation never ended for well over a year. After being told that his ex had thrown him out because he was tired of dealing with Bryce’s HIV issues (his ex was negative), I had walked into that bar that night and it changed both of our lives.
"Six months later, I was pulled aside at a party for his going away (at work because of his health as he was battling AIDS/Karposi Sarcoma et al), by a very close long time female friend of his I had only recently met. We walked outside for privacy and she wanted to tell me “whatever you’re doing to Bryce, don’t stop! None of us have seen him this happy in years! Life has returned to his eyes and they sparkle again. I’m so happy you came into his life”. The only ‘thing’ I was doing, was loving him for who he was. I’ve never forgotten those words. I never will. Bryce passed away from AIDS in 1997. He was and will always be my Valentine." Mark Ebonoch
Priscilla McCarthy and Gregory
Priscilla McCarthy with her husband Gregory celebrating their tenth anniversary: “In 1999, I met my current husband. He was more educated about HIV than my ex-husband; he is very understanding and supportive. My children love him just as their own father. In this picture, we are holding one of our favorite wedding day photos. I would title this picture, 'The Future is Forever.'”
Shawn and Gwen
Shawn and Gwenn Decker: "Valentine's Day with HIV can be a day filled with with love."
Timothy and his boyfriend.
Timothy [last name withheld by request] (front): “My partner and I decided to take this picture after he got in from work. It shows the strength we've both gone through. I am HIV-positive; my partner has shown so much support. He's not afraid to say or show that he is in love with me. This picture also shows the happiness within me and on the outside. I'm glad I did not give up on love and my own happiness.”
Tom and Tommy
Tom [last name held by request]: Tommy and I have been dating five months. We took a trip to London, and after brunch we visited the world's longest champagne bar, Searcy's, at St Pancras International Train Station. This is our first Valentine's Day.
Zach and Conor
Zach [last name held by request]: "Love to me is transparency and compassion. Always being honest and open, no matter how hard that may be. Because chances are when you tell it from the bottom of your heart and expose your true self and reasons for being it leaves room and clarity for your partner to do the same. There's good times and there's bad time but at the end of the day we get through it together and that's what I can count on."
Shyronn Jones is patiently awaiting for her Valentine
“To me love means acknowledging that my love is equally needed by my partner as much as I need his love.” Shyronn Jones
Shyronn is an eligible single woman living with HIV in Atlanta, Georgia. She is looking to be wowed and swept off her feet by a self-motivated, honest and intellectual man. She would like someone who values taking purposeful actions in pursuit of goals and dreams. IMPORTANT NOTICE: She also needs love, money, and affection.