Despite living with several chronic health conditions, Mary Jane Maestas has spent a considerable amount of her time traveling to D.C., from her home in Delta, Colo. First, to protest Trump’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, then to fight the administration’s attacks on immigrants, and then again to protest Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Throughout these two years, the fierce activist has been arrested several times for civil disobedience — which hasn’t scared her off one bit.
The feisty 52-year-old Latina says these issues, along with HIV, are all connected more than we realize in this country, and that focusing on where they intersect is key: “These issues are connected because they affect the most vulnerable of people. The poor, elderly, children, and the sick, which are also the most marginalized and ignored by the powerful, often are without a voice in national politics,” explains Maestas.
Public assistance programs are life-saving for people in these populations and need to be protected. “After being homeless for a little over a year, I was blessed with a HOPWA housing voucher and moved into my own apartment in August,” she says, talking about the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program from HUD’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing. “While there were times that I was frustrated, I never gave up believing I deserved a safe place to call my own.”
Today, she says there is still fear of disclosing, due to stigma. Maestas was diagnosed in 2011. She says, “I feel that the language we use can be stigmatizing. I prefer not to call myself a ‘HIV-positive’ person. I say I am ‘a person living with HIV,’ instead.”
Though poz folk’s preferences on terminology varies and continues to evolve, Maestas’s statement is an important reminder to be sensitive of everyone’s humanity, and to not chop anyone down.
“I want to become more involved with the issues that are affecting my rural community. Also of course, universal healthcare and holding my elected officials to high standards are also high on my radar for 2019.”
Maestas says being part of this year’s list is “such an honor. Since being diagnosed with HIV, this is definitely my biggest achievement, so far — I am truly blessed!”