In August, 30-year-old gay Broadway actor Hernando Umana came out publicly about being HIV-positive in a big way. The Kinky Boots and School Of Rock alum posted a heartfelt note on Instagram alongside a photo of himself holding the message: “Living With HIV.” And with that, he was free of the secret he’d kept from the public for nearly 10 years.
Coming out poz remains one of the proudest moments in his life, Umana says. But while it was a milestone for him (and the many others he’s inspired), he says the queer community still has a long way to go in eradicating the stigma that kept him closeted for so long.
Of the biggest challenges facing people living with HIV, Umana says, “In my very privileged community in N.Y.C., it is absolutely the stigma. How are we so behind in education in N.Y.C.? We [also] have to remember that there are so many people in the world who don’t have access to affordable medication — and that needs to be fixed now.”
In addition, Umana wants to see more attention brought to the impact of viral suppression. And he’s certainly walking the walk. In the August Instagram post, he paid homage to HIV activists who’ve come before him to make it possible to have access to medications that suppress the virus to such low levels that it becomes virtually impossible to transmit to others: “I stand on the shoulders of people like [Peter Staley] who risked his life for us,” he wrote. “I stand on the shoulders of the millions of people who had to suffer and die from this disease. I stand on the shoulders of the gay men who were forced out of the closet in such a scary time. These men and woman fought and died to get to where we’re at now — to take a pill at night and never have to worry about dying.”
Now, Umana continues to encourage other public figures to share their HIV status. After all, “nothing is going to change until people can see what HIV looks like,” he says to Plus. “It wasn’t until we had incredible representation of queer characters in the performance field that real change started to happen. When someone was taught to discriminate their entire lives against a group of people, sometimes they just need to see with their own eyes that we are just like them.”
Umana also started a business called CBD Dog Health (CBDDogHealth.com), a company that supplies CBD-enriched hemp oil to treat medical issues for pets.
Needless to say, the man is busy. He says he simply hopes to “continue my journey.”