This article is part of the Positive U series, a component of U=U & U, Pride Media’s year-long initiative to get the word out about HIV prevention, treatment, and testing, especially the groundbreaking news that people living with HIV who have undetectable viral loads can no longer transmit HIV.
Miami has vibrant sunsets, gorgeous Art Deco architecture, and the best Cuban food in the continental U.S. But the area’s true treasure is longtime HIV activist and advocate Maria Mejia. For over 20 years, the fierce survivor and activist has been helping and inspiring women and girls around the world.
The Colombia-born beauty started life in an environment of abuse and violence, having survived both childhood sexual abuse and gang life in her teens. Mejia has admitted to reporters that when she first learned she’d contracted HIV from her gang-leader boyfriend a week after turning 18, she was devastated — and alone back when being positive was often a death sentence.
Not only did Mejia survive, but this long-term survivor is thriving today and she continually inspires those around her.
“I had two options — to lay in bed and die or to fight and survive, and now thrive, by helping others by being their example and educating the world about HIV,” she says. “I have learned that being of service to others gives me purpose and I thrive on my mission and passion.”
Today, the 46-year-old works with multiple organizations as an international human rights activist, speaker, author, mentor, and educator. Mejia also proudly serves as a global ambassador for The Well Project, a non-profit whose mission is to change the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic through a unique and comprehensive focus on women and girls.
Mejia is also the founder of "the largest online support group on Facebook for people living with this human condition and those affected by it — both in English and Spanish,” she says. “I created it because I knew that a support system is very important."
Since being featured on Plus magazine’s list of the Most Amazing HIV-Positive Women in 2015, Mejia has continued her dedication to ending the stigma associated with HIV. She's currently very passionate about getting the message out about U=U, the global consensus backed by research stating that when someone living with HIV is virally suppressed (undetectable), there is zero chance of transmitting the virus to a sexual partner, even without the use of condoms.
In fact, Mejia served as “a proud ambassador and part of the [U=U consensus] national and international steering committee. I jumped in one year after it all started and I fought along with Bruce [Richman, who spearheaded the U=U movement] and others — and I am still fighting many activists and people in the health field that do not want to accept this. It enrages me because it has set us free.”
She continues, “I am a 31-year, long-term survivor and they knew the truth for many years and didn’t tell us because they were fate-keeping and also because they thought we were not responsible enough. [U=U] has freed us from stigma. People are disclosing easier; people have an incentive to stay in treatment and become undetectable.”
Mejia is especially focused on connecting with and helping those who are newly diagnosed, because they are the most vulnerable in many ways. Mejia, who enjoys an active lifestyle of traveling, hiking, biking, and kayaking encourages people living with HIV to not give up on their dreams and continue living their best life.
"Take your meds, live a healthy lifestyle," she adds, "and just throw away everything toxic out of your life.”
Find out more about U=U, and what that means for you, at our U=U&U channel.