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How This HIV Advocate Uses His Privilege to Expand Access for His Community


How This HIV Advocate Uses His Privilege to Expand Access for His Community

As a part of Plus’ editorial series withOUT Limits, culture critic Juan Michael Porter II discusses his journey with HIV advocacy and the issues facing the HIV community.

Juan Michael Porter II is a health journalist, HIV advocate, culture critic, and Drama Desk Awards nominator who uses his position within the theater community to provide access for people living with HIV. Although Juan Michael has become a vocal advocate, he never expected HIV to be a part of his life’s narrative. When he went with a friend to get an STI test and learned he was positive, Juan Michael was upset – but not for the reasons you may think.

“When I got tested I found out I was positive, and I was not fine. My partner got tested and when he found out he had HIV, he admitted he had been sleeping with other people. And people ask me if I were upset with him or with getting HIV, and I tell them no. I’m upset with the system,” Juan Michael explains.

The system Juan Michael is referring to is the system that disallows access for people living with HIV to get the visibility they need to fight stigma and the access to get support and care. Witnessing this and hearing the stories from people in his community, Juan Michael knew he needed to use his platform to amplify the message.

“I’m a notable dance and theater critic and hearing stories from people while doing my reporting, I’ve learned that our stories are vastly not being told or told from the perspective of someone who isn’t living with HIV, and I wanted to shift my work of writing and advocating to that,” Juan Michael shares.

When talking about access, Juan Michael doesn’t mince words when advocating not only for other people, but for himself. Although he acknowledges his own privilege in his knowledge of the laws surrounding HIV care, he fights for himself and the individuals who may not have that education.

“The issue is blame, and how people blame those living with HIV. I was once denied access to my medication and I stood my ground because I knew the laws, but what about someone living in a rural area that doesn’t know the laws? And the cost associated with care, and the stigma attached to people living with HIV, it’s a constant fight. It keeps me fighting,” Juan Michael says.

And Juan Michael fights with an unapologetic attitude and hard facts, relying on scientific evidence to break through stigma to change the way people react to HIV. Also, as a dancer, Juan Michael incorporates the joy he gets from dancing into fighting the perspective people have of those living with HIV.

“By showing myself living my life and thriving – like I’m on vacation in Italy, dancing – I’m showing others that people who have HIV can still have joy, that we can still live our lives. It’s like how I lecture at universities and I rarely lecture about HIV, but about dance or race. But I show people that I’m thriving, and that changes how they think,” Juan Michael explains.

Juan Michael also realizes that a variety of treatment options and sticking to a regimen is paramount to living life without limits, citing how he just has to take one pill a day and that there are options for long-lasting injectables. But he still stresses that access and the stigma around HIV hampers treatment.

“The day that I can walk into a treatment center and ask for my prescription without the fear of getting beat up or having to fight for my medication, and the same for anyone else, that will be the day,” Juan Michael says.

Juan Michael continues to amplify other voices as well as his own to continue fighting to that goal of safety for anyone seeking treatment. And the one way he’ll continue to do that is by building community for those living with HIV.

“I want to teach people how to be happy, I think that’s the way I bring my community together. I had a friend ask me whether I would choose to be happy, and it’s simple, but important to remember that you have that choice to be happy regardless of anything. And I want all of us to be happy,” Juan Michael shares.

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