After ending an abusive 10-year relationship, Dee Conner learned she was living with HIV. Though she went through short waves of depression and alcoholism in response, she knew deep-down that her destiny was too strong to ignore.
Conner rose from the ashes not only for her then-6-year-old daughter, but also for the life she knew was in store. Two years after being diagnosed, she married again and had another healthy baby girl. These days, Conner uses her platform as host of Pozitively Dee’s Discussion podcast to address issues relating to HIV and stigma, to be a strong voice for those who need it most, and to continue spreading the message that when you are undetectable it is impossible to transmit the virus to others.
“Sometime in the mid-2000s I knew that I could not [transmit] HIV to my husband,” explains Conner, who came out publicly about her status on Facebook in 2014. “We were married for about 14 years and there was a physician I had who basically let us know that I could not transmit HIV to him. Although the words ‘You can’t transmit’ weren’t said, I knew what the doctor meant.”
But the full breadth of U=U didn’t crystalize for Conner until she met likeminded HIV activists like Bruce Richman at the Positive Living Conference three years ago. It was here that the U=U message became articulated in such a way that it inspired Conner to join the fight more directly.
“I knew it was my purpose because I could feel it and it made me feel so good,” she says. “My advocacy and U=U have become part of my life and I’m sure there are people who don’t get what I am saying. I fall asleep thinking about what else I can do to make an impact to help others—so I don’t sleep as much as I should since my brain is always working. My love for community and people leads me to want to educate, motivate, inspire, and encourage everyone.”
Another layer of Conner’s message is that, “[Community organizations] are the ones doing all the leg work in these vulnerable communities working tirelessly to get people in care who are out of care, working hard with access to care and getting individuals tested,” she explains, adding that federal agencies should “stop funding the bigger organizations as much as they do and start looking at who is really doing the work out here in all these communities.”
The U=U ambassador adds, “I know many small organizations that have to almost beg for help with funding and this leaves many people left behind who need them. Without the funding, how can any of the small nonprofits get the work done that is needed? That’s what I think about resolving barriers, and Bruce Richman is doing just that by starting an ambassador’s program for U=U with a panel of all people of color.”
As for the future of U=U, Conner says it is “very bright right now as we speak and will continue to keep moving forward in other countries. Now, if we can get more people in the U.S. to do more when it comes to U=U that would be one of the greatest accomplishments for The Prevention Access Campaign and U=U. We can’t say we care about those who are living with HIV and not give them this very important message. We all say, ‘If you don’t want to talk about it, then we’ll do it for you.’”