Poz And Sober, Gay NYC Council Speaker Recalls Darker Days

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In a string of emotional, sincere, and heartfelt tweets, out poz New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson says overcoming his hard partying benders on cocaine and alcohol, as well as the day he learned he was HIV-positive, contributed to his success today. 

Johnson is one of the highest-ranking out, gay, and HIV-positive elected officials in the country. This past Sunday marked the anniversary, 14 years ago, when he was first diagnosed.

On his personal Twitter account, Johnson tweeted, "Tomorrow is the first day of October and 14 years ago this week I found out I was HIV-positive. I was 22 years old and in the moment and for the days and months and even years following my doctor giving me that news, I lived with shame and fear and anxiety."

He continued, "I lost my job and health insurance a couple of weeks after I seroconverted. And I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. My doctor gave me the number and address for an organization in Chinatown that I hadn’t heard of. It was called APICHA Community Health Center... I remember walking from Chelsea to Chinatown nervous and scared. I walked in and they sat me down with this incredible woman named Shefali.

"She became my case worker. She was vibrant and loving and reassuring and with zero judgment, just compassion. She found me a doctor. She got me enrolled in ADAP (AIDS Drugs Assistance Program). But it still took me a long time to be able to talk about this with anyone except Shefali. She would call me and check in and make sure I was going to my appointments..." 

He added, "My drinking and drug use took off after this. I think I was self medicating to push away the pain and shame and remorse. Today I am healthy. I am sober for over nine years of drugs and alcohol. I have good health insurance and the stability in my life that allows me to not to."

Johnson's first brush with the national spotlight goes back to 2000 when he was featured in a New York Times story where he talked about coming out gay to his high school football team in Masconomet, Mass.

At the time, Johnson told the Times,  ''Someday I want to get beyond being that gay football captain, but for now I need to get out there and show these machismo athletes who run high schools that you don't have to do drama or be a drum major to be gay. It could be someone who looks just like them.''

The story appeared on the front page of the Times and served as a step ladder for Johnson's rise in the democratic party, eventually leading him to spearhead New York public advocate Mark Green's failed mayoral bid against Michael Bloomberg in 2001. That same year he worked on state comptroller Carl McHall's race for governor who was also defeated in his bid to unseat third term Republican incumbent George Pataki.

In his tweets, Johnson notes that "we lost a generation of gay men. I didn’t have to live through those years. Thank you to ACT UP and all the brave activists who made all of this possible for me. I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for you. And thank you Shefali for your kindness and compassion."

“I am blown away by the positive reaction and all the retweets,” he said in a statement to the New York Post on Monday about the outpouring of love he still receives. “It’s important for people who are in the place I was in 14 years ago to hear my story and know that there is life – a full, happy, wonderful life – after diagnosis. I am grateful every day and take nothing for granted.” 

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