Miami’s sassiest HIV activist is clearly Maria Mejia, a 40-year-old lesbian Latina who found out she was positive at age 18 during a routine Job Corps screening. A fixture on the podium at both Latino and HIV-specific events, Mejia is one of the few people in the nation reminding others that, despite the stats, there are lesbians living with HIV.
An activist, a peer educator, and a caregiver in a city with one of the country’s highest per capita rates of HIV infections, Mejia spoke at the U.S. Conference on AIDS last fall, works with the Well Project, serves on the digital advisory council for Janssen, and starred in the CDC’s “Let’s Stop AIDS Together” campaign with her wife, Lisa. A native of Colombia, she’s worked with the Red Cross and other groups in educating Latino and immigrant communities about HIV, urging testing, providing counseling, and telling everyone who will listen that “being HIV positive is nothing to be ashamed about.… We will take away all the stigma, slowly but [first] we have to open up.”
Perhaps her biggest impact is on social media, where she provides a forum for others to talk, via her bilingual YouTube channel (Mariasjournal) and two of the largest Facebook groups, one in English (Mariahiv), one in Spanish (Mariahiv1111), for people with HIV. That’s tens of thousands who come together to talk about everything from dating advice to coming out to your parents about being poz.