I have been HIV-positive for 16 years. As a Latino male with strong family ties, it was very difficult for me to not only reveal to them my diagnosis but also the fact that I was gay. In the Latino community, in general, we have our own views toward sex and sexuality and tend to be more discreet and more conservative. So it wasn’t only about the diagnosis but also about being gay in a machismo culture, where masculinity defines so many aspects of our lives.
As a way of coping with something they couldn’t understand, my family responded first with silence and then with blame, shaming me for my lifestyle and my HIV-positive status. With so much resentment and fear tearing us apart, I moved in 2009 from Houston to Southern California. There I found support and a safe haven in the AIDS Services Foundation and its RADAR project (Rendering Access to Disease-prevention Advocacy & Retention) that focuses on helping bisexual and gay Latino men by providing vital HIV services and counseling.
It was the first time in nearly ten years that I felt a sense of community. I made new friends and established bonds with others who had a similar history. I received medical care and food pantry services, and counseling that I feel truly changed my life. Without it, I most likely would have been unable to reconcile with my family — and build even stronger relationships with them than before — and let go of the resentment and fear. In fact, I’m now the go-to man in the family for advice and information about sex, HIV, and coming out.
With an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and trust in ASF, I started volunteering at the AIDS Walk and recently became certified to perform HIV tests. I will also be volunteering as a counselor at RADAR, helping the Latino community prepare for and better respond to the lifestyle choices of the men in their lives.
I have survived a devastating HIV diagnosis, I have survived cancer, and I have survived the storm of losing family support. Now, living a healthy life — and clean and sober — I see how important it is to have the courage to seek help and accept the resources offered by organizations like ASF. It profoundly changed — and saved — my life.
Daniel Garza volunteers with AIDS Services Foundation's RADAR project.