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Broadway Actor Comes Out HIV-Positive For A Greater Purpose

DIMITRI MOISE

Family is everything to Dimitri Joseph Moise, a New York-based multihyphenate entertainer who can be seen on season 1 of TBS’s The Last O.G. and on the national tour of the Broadway smash hit, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. The actor, dancer, singer, producer, and magazine editor made his Broadway debut in The Book of Mormon mere hours after his college graduation.

Moise says booking that show was the turning point for his parents because “while they always believed in me… they were like, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to be a singer-actor? What are you talking about? That’s not a job!’ To have that experience of them watching me graduate during the day… [and then] watch me and my debut in this hit show on Broadway. They were really proud to see that, Oh, he can really do this.

Moise says he “feels like I’m at home when I’m onstage,” but it wasn’t a given that the first-generation American would become an actor.

Both of his parents came to America from Haiti, though they first met in the U.S. in the late 1980s. At the time, extreme racism and homophobia were aimed at Haitian immigrants, after media coverage erroneously branded the entire nationality a high-risk group for HIV. That bias against Haitian-Americans is still strongly held in some parts of the nation. In 2017, an article in The New York Times reported on a White House meeting in which President Trump, angry that 15,000 Haitian immigrants had been allowed into the U.S., allegedly said they “all have AIDS.”

The current anti-immigrant political environment can be tough, Moise says, but his parents have always made sure he was proud of his heritage — and proud of being an American.

“As a son of Haitian immigrants, it’s meant a lot to me to be a first-generation American,” he says. “I’ve realized there aren’t that many of myself in the circles that I’m in.” At the schools he attended, Moise explains, “I was usually one of the few black students and so my parents always reminded me, ‘You are a Haitian-American person. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t let anyone try to steer you away from who you are.’”

After he was accepted into an elite, all-boys high school in New York, Moise recalls, “my dad and my mom sat me down and they were like, ‘As a black person in America, you need to acknowledge that when you walk into that school, your teachers, your peers, are not going to think that you’ll do as well as them. They’re going to expect you to fail out, so you need to be 10 times better than everyone [else].’”

Until very late in high school, the future Broadway star thought he was going to be a surgeon. His father is a nuclear medical technician in cardiology, and Moise was planning to follow in his footsteps.

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor,” he admits. His dream was to be a reconstructive surgeon who also did pro bono work for those who actually needed it, like babies with cleft lips. Moise was on that track until he stumbled into theater. “I had a knack for singing and so my mom told me to audition for the glee club,” he remembers. He made the cut for the all-boys chorus and also made a lot of friends from the drama club, who invited him to see their production of Godspell.

“I was beside myself seeing my friends getting to live these incredible lives onstage. I thought, That looks really cool and maybe I would want to try that.” After additional encouragement from the drama director, Moise auditioned and ended up getting the lead in his school’s next musical. That one part led to many more, which led to him sending in nine college applications for pre-med and nine for theater. Every theater school accepted him.

“I thought, OK, well, maybe I should follow this,” he says, laughing. “Then from there it just — life never really stopped.”

But something did stop him. Last year, he got sick. Nothing really bad, just a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away. But when you’re up onstage twice a night, six days a week, and traveling to a new city (or new country) on that single “off” day, an actor doesn’t have time to waste worrying about lingering sniffles.

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Back at home in New York, Moise was “in and out of the urgent care for two weeks. Nothing they were giving me was working and they didn’t know what was going on.”

On one visit, he figured he might as well get his usual HIV test out of the way, just to save a visit to the clinic. He’d had lots of tests, all negative. He’d expected this one to be too. Then he was left waiting in an exam room for 30 minutes before he heard someone in the hall say, “Are you going to tell him or should I?” A doctor came in moments later and revealed the results. “He tells me, ‘You’re HIV-positive,’” Moise recalls.

Moise acknowledges being initially overwhelmed by emotion at the diagnosis. But not long after, he realized he was “lucky that I’m living in a time where my life is so different than what it could have been.”

Only a month into treatment, Moise learned his viral load was suppressed to undetectable levels. He’s part of a new generation living with HIV, those who’ve known from the beginning that undetectable means untransmittable. “I realized I would thrive the day I became undetectable,” he explains. “I don’t have to be scared anymore. I’m undetectable, which means I cannot transmit the virus. So I can live a happy life.”

The out queer Broadway actor has plenty on his mind besides HIV. Even while nonstop touring, Moise is always looking for the next horizon, how he’ll make his parents proud, and make his dreams come true. He’s juggling performing with philanthropy and activism, volunteering with groups like Broadway Serves and cofounding TORCH (TorchUnites.com), an organization dedicated to uniting marginalized communities through arts entrepreneurship.

And television beckons. Last year, he had a small role as Mostel Defferies on The Last O.G., the TBS comedy co-created by Jordan Peele and starring Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish. “It was a really incredible experience getting to work with such big names,” Moise says. “It was my first TV experience and it’s very different from performing onstage.”

Moise can juggle a lot. The multitasker is also balancing his performances with serving as managing editor of Chill, a magazine for young men of color, which he views as another chance to help others see themselves in an empowering way. [Full disclosure: Chill is a sister publication of Plus magazine.] Moise hopes to turn his diagnosis into something positive too (pun partially intended).

“The day I was diagnosed… I was like, Why me? But then… I thought, I’m going to do something about this. I want to be able to turn my negative experience into something positive that can better myself, and hopefully better other people, especially people of color. We’re faced with so much — and we don’t talk about mental health. We don’t talk about STIs. We don’t talk about HIV, and it’s so prevalent in our community. And if we’d talk about it, if we acknowledge that these things exist, that we’re susceptible, maybe we can do better at making sure it doesn’t continue being so rampant in spaces of color. And if I can be a person that helps lead that charge, that helps continue that charge, that helps that kind of work exist in the world, then I want to do that.”

Moise came out about being poz in Plus magazine’s “I Am the First” video series. After all, in his family he’s had many firsts — first-generation American, first family member to go to American college, the first to perform on Broadway, the first to edit a magazine, and yes, now the first to live with HIV.

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