Every time Ari Hampton comes out it changes his life. After coming out as gay he ended up on the streets, turned to sex work (and drug use) to survive, and ended up in an abusive relationship. By the time he was 25, he was HIV-positive, and that’s when coming out turned into advocacy for the young, mixed-race, gay man from Detroit.
Almost immediately after learning his HIV status, Hampton became an HIV activist, working with other young gay men on HIV prevention through Horizons Project, eventually becoming what Katosha Gowin — one of the people who nominated Hampton — calls, “A voice for those that may be afraid to know.”
Hampton also got involved with the HIV Stigma Index project, was named to the 2014 Poz100 list, and he represented the U.S. on the steering committee of Global Network of People Living With HIV’s youth group.
Then he came out again; sharing his struggle with depression for Plus magazine’s special report on HIV and depression. His willingness to be remarkably open about his mental health issues — as well as past abuse, sex work, and drug use — was not only an act of bravery, it also opened new doors for advocacy.
“Since the article [came] out,” Hampton explains, “I have had some people reach out to me just to say, ‘Thank you for shining a light on depression and the HIV-positive community.’ It has prompted the perfect platform to discuss issues surrounding mental illness in the African- American community, specifically with people living with HIV.”
Hampton says, “Hard work, a positive outlook, and my driven passion will always be the tools to not only help myself but my community as well.”
Now he’s applying that passion to “working very closely with the state health department here in Michigan regarding PrEP campaigns.”
Hampton is focusing on his health now too: He recently lost 76 pounds, something he’s very proud of, as well as in “finding out that I'm still undetectable [after] eight years.”
Moved by the honor of being an Amazing HIV-Positive Person of 2016, Hampton says, “Words cannot express how grateful I am.”
Gowin, who is also Hampton’s cousin, boasts, “It is an honor to witness his hard work and to see him be an activist in a day most people are afraid.”
Determined to continue his advocacy, Hampton says, what he hopes to accomplish in the next few years "is still bridging the gaps between LGBT communities of color with service providers. I would love to open up more homeless shelters that are specifically for LGBT persons of color,” Hampton says, imagining that they could not only provide shelter but also “teach sustainable life skills to prep them to be successful in life.” It's something he could have used himself years ago.